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Review - Songs for a New World

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Playing until: 3rd March 2024




Photo credit: Film Free Photography

Review {AD-PR Invite}

Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown, Songs for a New World premiered Off-Broadway in 1995. Almost 30 years later, Quite Good Theatre has brought this unique piece of musical back in a rousing and highly entertaining production at Upstairs at the Gatehouse.


Rather than taking the shape of a traditional musical, Songs for a New World is described as ‘an anthology of short stories told through song’, all connected by the same feeling of being on the precipice of a life-changing moment or decision.


Across two slick acts, four performers (the superb Christopher Cameron, Eleanore Frances, Lizzy Parker and Luke Walsh) explore the complexities of life and love through Brown’s timeless collection of songs, each portraying a number of different characters throughout. Beyond their beautiful blend of voices, the four performers have incredible chemistry on stage, giving the audience the feeling of watching a group of old friends catching up, an impressive achievement when the actors need to adopt frequent change of characters within a single show.


The casting is pitch-perfect, with each performer showcasing their individual strengths through their loose character arcs: Cameron is the charming romantic soul of the show, Frances balances impeccable comic timing with gentle vulnerability, Parker conveys an endearing quiet confidence, while Walsh embodies characters with a captivating sense of ambition.


The eclectic set, composed of various pieces of antique-looking furniture and an assortment of knick knacks, helps to evoke the sense that we’re seeing a mosaic of separate lives with distinctive yet relatable experiences.


It is especially delightful to see the band featured so prominently onstage, brilliantly led by Musical Director Liam Holmes, with the piano acting as the centrepiece of the set, getting a particularly inspired chance to shine during Frances’s standout performance of “Just One Step”.


Transitions between songs are simple and seamless, and cast members who aren’t performing sit down on chairs either side of the stage, doing so in a way that feels like they are genuinely observing the action rather than merely awaiting their turn to sing. This is particularly powerful in some of the more emotionally raw songs, such as Parker’s stunning renditions of “I’m Not Afraid of Anything” and “Christmas Lullaby”.


Most of the movement in the show feels purposeful; however, there are a few songs where one cast member will perform to downstage right while the others stand diagonally behind them. While this is initially effective, some of the songs might benefit from a bit more variety in the staging and a closer connection with the audience.


While it’s a testament to Brown’s writing and composing that these songs felt as fresh and relevant in 2024 as they did when Songs for a New World first premiered in 1995, the charm of this production is predominantly a testament to the exquisite talents of the four performers, the confidence of Kai Wright’s direction, and the commanding musical direction of Liam Holmes.


Creatives

Writer and Composer: Jason Robert Brown

Director: Kai Wright

Associate Director: Tara Noonan

Musical Director: Liam Holmes

Sound Design: Glenn Oxenbury

Lighting Design: Jason Fenn

Production Designer: Sophie Goodman


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