Following its exemplary premieres of the early off-Broadway work of Adam Guettel (Floyd Collins) and Michael John LaChiusa (Hello Again), the Bridewell now formally introduces the third member of the triumvirate of talent that emerged in New York in the mid-nineties, by offering the UK premiere of Songs for a New World, the wonderful revue of some 16 songs with which Jason Robert Brown first announced his arrival off-Broadway in 1995.
Since then, Brown has also written the Tony-winning score to Parade in 1998, and although the show failed commercially in its Lincoln Center premiere directed by Hal Prince, he is clearly a force to be reckoned with. So, too, is Clive Paget, the Artistic Director of the Bridewell, whose unstinting admiration of these writers is lovingly revealed in his acutely sensitive and captivatingly beautiful stagings of their shows.
It's not as easy as he makes it look: both Guettel and LaChiusa, with their elusive, but far from exclusive, musical structures make for concentrated hearing, and Paget's productions held you for their difficult but rewarding journeys; and Songs for a New World, though it reveals Brown to be melodically easily the most accessible, direct and joyous writer of the trio, has the most negligible dramatic structure to hang those melodies off.
Paget's solution weaves the songs and performers in and out of each other, but treats each as if it were a one-act musical of its own. These are thrilling story songs, rather than plot ones, that conjure entire worlds, relationships and feelings. Not surprisingly, several of them are already cabaret standards: both the incandescent Audra McDonald and Betty Buckley have already made Stars and the Moon into signature songs of theirs.
Though neither Sarah Redmond nor the vibrant, vivacious Golda Rosheuvel are yet in that Broadway power league, they're superb interpreters who place the material first, their own egos as performers second. It's refreshing to find such selflessness in the 'look at me' artifice of musical theatre, and they're gorgeously complemented by two slightly more strident men, Craig Purnell and Nigel Richards, to make a superb ensemble.
- Mark Shenton