Songs for a New World is the gorgeously melodic and poignantly told 1995 Off-Broadway song cycle revue that first introduced Jason Robert Brown, then just 25, to the world. He has since had four original book musicals reach Broadway. In some ways, though, his work has never been better than here, which is really like 16 shows for the price of one. Each number is its own nuanced, richly dramatised mini-musical, telling its own complete story. Adam Lenson’s riveting new production is both sensationally sung and thrillingly acted.
Set in what looks like a downtown Manhattan loft apartment, with high wide windows opening out on a view of the Statue of Liberty and what could be shards of the fallen towers of the World Trade Centre, the cast of four cut isolated figures who occasionally come together in wonderful harmonies. But each is trapped in his or her own memory.
Jenna Russell and Cynthia Erivo are two of our very finest exponents of acting through song, illuminating the material from within. In Stars and the Moon, which has become a cabaret standard, Russell charts a woman’s heartbreaking realisation that achieving what she thought she wanted wasn’t what she needed. Erivo brings an effortless naturalism and lyricism to I’m Not Afraid of Anything and it’s true: she’s both utterly fearless and peerless.
Damian Humbley, possessed of one of the very best male voices in British musical theatre, lends I’d Give It All for You a ringing clarity and clout. And Dean-John Wilson, the least well-known of the quartet, marks his own territory and holds his own in their company with an athletic and authentic presence, with a stand-out performance of King of the World.