Monday, August 01, 2005

Songs for a New World (Cain Park)

Cain Park’s ‘SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD’ wows audience

"Hear my song-- It'll help you believe in tomorrow Hear my song-- It'll show you the way you can shine Hear my song-- It was made for the time When you don't know where to go Listen to the song that I sing You'll be fine"

These words set the tone for ‘SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD,’ now on stage at Cain Park.

TONY award winner Jason Robert Brown, the show’s author, is one of a new breed of American musical theatre conceivers. The writer of the critical smash, ‘PARADE,’ is often compared to Stephen Sondheim because of his stylish, clever, dramatic and often funny lyrics and broad range of musical sounds.

‘SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD’ is not your “usual” musical theatrical fare. In fact, it defies classification. It has no plot, the songs do not fit a mold of sound, the performers don’t consistently create a single character, so it’s not a musical comedy or drama. It’s not a series of songs based on a theme, so it’s not a musical review. It is probably best described as a “theatrical song cycle.”

Brown says of his first work, “It’s about one moment. It’s about hitting the wall and having to make a choice, or take a stand, or turn around and go back.” In the work, he transports the audience with musical vignettes (there is not a spoken word in the entire production) from a 1492 Spanish sailing ship, to a woman on the ledge of a building threatening to commit suicide, to a man caught in a corporate corruption scandal, to a woman about to give birth, to the horrors of war, to people at a school reunion, to a couple about to reunite. Each segment is a playlet in itself.

First produced in 1995 the show ran for only 28 performances in New York. That doesn’t mean it was a flop. That is the maximum performance run of shows at the WPA Theatre. It has since been performed by hundreds of college and community theatres to generally favorable reviews, depending on the cast.

There is no question about the quality of the Cain Park cast. The quartet can all sing. Not just sing, but sing very, very, very well. They not only fit their voices perfectly to every piece of music, they dramatically interpret each song. They sing meanings, not just words. They vary their facial and body movements to fit the mood. THIS IS PERFORMANCE AT IT’S HIGHEST LEVEL! They are well aided by music director Nancy Maier and her fine band, Janiece Kelley-Kiteley’s inventive choreography and Carol Dunne’s “right on” directing.

Except for the fact that the cast isn’t multi-ethnic, which was the way the show was intended to be, there isn’t a flaw in the production. The lack of an African American male performer lessens the effect of a scene in which a young ghetto dweller shares his dreams of escaping from his personal hell by using his basketball skills. And even that glitch, in the great plan of things, doesn’t take the sheen off a wonderful theatrical experience.

Mitch McCarrell (Man 1), Neal Mortimer (Man 2), Hannah Laird (Woman 1) and Tracee Patterson (Woman 2) are marvelous.

McCarrell, a Times Tribute Theatre Award winner for his amazing portrayal in Cain Park’s ‘BAT BOY,’ has a powerful voice, interprets songs well, dances with ease, and lights up a stage. His “On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship” portrays the proper angst and yearning of the search for the unknown. His “King of the World” is a show stopper. “Flying Home” was mesmerizing.

Neal Mortimer also has a fine voice and acting skills. His “The World Was Dancing” was well interpreted as was his duet, “I’d Give It All For You” with Hannah Laird.

Laird has a big and well-pitched voice. “I’m Not Afraid of Anything” was sung with an edge of vulnerability that perfectly fit the song.

Multi Times Tributes Award winner Tracee Patterson did what has come to be expected from her--she gave a powerhouse performance. In the perfectly interpreted “Just One Step” she held a note so long that the audience was gasping for breath. She emotionally tore up the audience with her rendition of“The Flagmaker, 1775.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: In this town where standing ovations automatically follow every show, no matter the quality, the audience’s jumping to their feet and screaming praises finally meant something. The Cain Park version of ‘SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD’ is one of those special evenings in the theatre. The power of this show are the performances. YOU MUST SEE ‘SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD!”