REVIEW: SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD
at The Aurora Fox Arts Center
by Michael Mulhern
Before there was Parade, before there was Bridges of Madison County, before there was 13 and The Last 5 Years…there was SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD; or as I call it…Intro to Jason Robert Brown 101. Keep in mind that this is not a musical per say, but rather a musical revue featuring a collage of Brown’s works. In this musical we go everywhere from a Spanish Saling Ship in 1492, to prison, to 1775 and even the North Pole. On a personal note, I may be a little obsessed with Jason Robert Brown and this musical. I remember buying the CD (yes….we listened to CD’s back then) when I was in college and listened to it non-stop from Minneapolis to Denver. I instantly fell in love with Brown and know every word to this exceptional musical. I have to commend this cast on facing this complex musical head on resulting on glorious harmonies and a stellar and strong ensemble. I love that this musical that premiered way back in 1995 is getting attention again and new life thanks to the musical stylings of David Nehls. Not only did he update this dated musical but he also had the genius to do a little gender/song swapping. I loved Randy singing Just One Step and wished he also sang On The Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship that was better suited for his range than Leonard. And while I appreciated the lesbian twist and lovely singing of Leiney in She Cries, it was in such an odd key that it was a little off. All of this was forgiven when Leiney and David’s gorgeous rendition of Christmas Lullaby brought the entire audience to tears. Seriously, Christmas Lullaby (Gloria) was one of the most gorgeous remastered pieces of musical theater I have heard!
This ensemble really meshed vocally much to the enjoyment and amazement of the audience. Sarah Rex was a powerhouse in this musical, making each one of her songs memorable and fabulous. She had us laughing during Surabaya-Santa, brought a tear to me eye in Stars and the Moon, and brought down the house with her amazing rendition of The Flagmaker, 1775. Newcomer Leiney Rigg definitely made a lasting impression on me with her vocal prowess. I loved her singing I’m Not Afraid and especially Christmas Lullaby. This is one actress I will be looking forward to seeing on the stage again! Randy Chalmers voice is something to behold and soared in Just One Step, King of the World and especially Flying Home. I have to say that I have loved Leonard Barrett’s singing for quite some time; however, I am not sure if this was the right role for him. His vocalizations just seemed a little out of place from the rest of the ensemble and was noticeable in Spanish Sailing Ship and the World was Dancing. I did enjoy his duet with Randy in The River Won’t Flow and with Sarah with I’d Give it All For You.
Director Helen R. Murray did a wonderful job of hand picking a excellent ensemble and along with musical director David Nehls, provide the audience with a thoroughly enjoyable experience. My only wish is that they had a little choreography in the ensemble numbers that would have added that something extra special. I absolutely adored that set (by designer Brandon Case). It was a minimal design that was filled with nothing but windows. Along with the illuminating lighting design by Sean Mallery, the set was so reflective providing constant movement and helped the flow and transitions from each song piece.
If you have any appreciation for superb singers, amazing harmonies, and just a memorable evening of extraordinary music, then go and see this marvelous musical!
SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD is playing at the Aurora Fox Theater now through October 13th. For tickets or more information, contact the Aurora Fox Arts Center’s Box Office by calling 303-739-1970 or online at www.aurorafoxartscenter.org. The Aurora Fox is located at 9900 E. Colfax Ave. in Denver, CO.