FCS: Songs for a New World

Quick facts:
The 2012 York Theatre cast of Songs for a New World

  • Show: Songs for a New World
  • Off-Off-Broadway, a "lab production"
  • Date: Sunday, August 5, 2012
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Closing date: August 12, 2012
  • Venue: The York Theatre Company at St. Peter's Church
  • Running time: ~1:20 (no intermission)
  • My seat: Good.  It's a small enough venue that the only "bad seat" is the one behind the lady in the tall hat.
  • Ticket source: TDF
  • Understudies: none
Synopsis:  The musical revue written by Jason Robert Brown.  As he describes it, "a piece that is all about exploring what the unknown future holds".

My thoughts:  One of my closest friends - the Rev. Michael Sniffen - introduced me to the music of Jason Robert Brown when we were roommates in seminary.  It didn't take Michael long to know me well enough to know that Brown's music would be right up my alley.  And he was right!  It didn't take me long to fall in love with his work.

Up to now, however, my experience of Jason Robert Brown has been entirely through recordings of his shows (well, that, and the odd exchange of pleasantries on Twitter, of course!).  Tonight was my first experience of one of his show live and in person!

The idea of the "lab production" is a new endeavor for the York Theatre Company.  The idea behind it is to provide a platform for talented, young, emerging artists to gain serious performance credits and experience.

I went into tonight's "lab production" with fairly low expectations.  I knew it wouldn't be the kind of professional show that I've become accustomed to seeing, but I expected that Brown's incredible music and lyrics would be enough to carry the show.

While the performance wasn't perfect (what performance is, really?  That's part of the magic of live theater!), I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of all that saw.  No...  More than pleasantly surprised.  I was blown away.  I'll admit it.  After being a member of New York City theater audiences for so long now, I've become a bit of a snob.  I have very high expectations.  And these young people grabbed my attention from the start and held it through the night.  The production rose far above my expectations!

Of the four-member cast, two emerging stars shone most brightly: Diana Buchwald and Rafael Rodriguez.  Buchwald, in particular, had a magical gift for storytelling - not just with her incredible vocal skills, but with her face.  She acted her songs with precision, letting us all in on every aspect of her characters.  Her standout performances were "Just One Step" and Surabaya-Santa".  She can play comedy effectively with a straight face, without ever crossing over into anything cheap.  It's hard to make me laugh, and Diana Buchwald had me laughing out loud throughout.

Rodriguez, miraculously, took one of my least favorite moments in this show - "The Steam Train" - and made me love it.  His voice is powerful enough to crack a brick, and like Ms. Buchwald, he could sell every moment he presented.

As an interesting aside: this lab production of Songs for a New World is being presented on the set of the York Theatre's now-extended run of Closer Than Ever, which I saw on June 28th.  Interestingly, Jason Robert Brown has recently written about how that show influenced and inspired his writing of this, his own musical revue.  While the two shows weren't planned to share a stage like this, there's a certain poetry of it coming to pass.

Closing arguments:
  • Would I see it again?  Absolutely.  This production is worth my time far more than I would have expected, and even if it wasn't: the writing is enough to make it worthwhile.
  • Would I recommend it to others? If so, who?  Sure!  I actually brought my friend Michael with me to see this, since he's the one who first introduced me to it.  But I could imagine several other musical theater fan friends who would also love what they're doing with it.
  • Twitter review:  A delightful show given deeper delight by a delightful cast and production.