by Beki Pineda
SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD – Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown; Directed by Helen R. Murray. Produced by the Aurora Fox Arts Center (9900 East Colfax, Aurora) through October 14. Tickets available at 303-739-1970 or aurorafox.org.
A musical mélange of songs from the composer of PARADE, THE LAST FIVE YEARS, 13, and many other Broadway shows, the only connection each of the musical numbers have in common is the sense that they each reflect a turning point or a reflection of an event in the life of the singers. A point where they hit the wall or had to make a decision is demonstrated in comic terms or poignant contemplation. The first of a long line of successful works by Jason Robert Brown, this is a collection of songs written for unfinished works or stand-alone pieces from the composer’s imagination. A similar collection of random songs written but not used in shows was released later in his career as WEARING SOMEONE ELSE’S CLOTHES.
All of the songs have soaring melodies and express high emotion. “On the Dock of a Spanish Sailing Ship, 1492” pleads for help for the sailors on the journey. “The Flagmaker, 1775” details the sadness and determination of a wife during the Revolutionary War. More universally recognized themes abound in songs like “Stars and the Moon” which reflects on a woman’s choices between poor suitors she cared about and a rich one who could provide comfort and wealth. “I’d rather have a yacht.” But would she really?
Having a friend who is afraid of everything, I responded especially to “I’m Not Afraid of Anything.” Compared to my friend, I seem fearless when, in actuality, I’m just better at hiding my fears. Director Murray initiated a little gender-bending on a couple of the songs. “Just One Step” is usually sung by a woman trying to get the attention of her neglectful husband by threatening to jump off the window ledge. In this production, Randy Chalmers gives an over-the-top performance as a gay lover as he ponders the wisdom of jumping and berates his partner Murray inside the building. In another number normally sung by a man, the singer bemoans the fact that no matter how much she wants to leave her lover, when “She Cries” all her best intentions are melted away. Sarah Rex tells what it’s like to be married to that loner Santa Claus in “Surabaya-Santa.”
Each song tells a little story; each singer brings the story to life. The amazing Randy Chalmers and the always pleasing Leonard Barrett Jr. are balanced by the talents of the brilliant Sarah Rex and the colorful Leiney Rigg. Each of their solos are spectacular while when they sing together, it’s nothing short of heavenly. If these are songs from unfinished musicals, I want Brown to finish them.
The singers are well supported and well trained by Musical Director David Nehls and his string trio, especially in the beautiful accompaniment to “Christmas Lullaby.” The walls of movable windows designed and constructed by Designer Brandon Case sheds illumination and opens doors for the music. With no expectations of a story or characters, just go enjoy – let the music wash over you.
A WOW factor of 8.5!