It is no secret that music has this power to find something in us, something that words sometimes cannot reach. It has a power to speak to us and sometimes put things into context when we are struggling to find the words to explain how we feel. And sometimes, at a certain point in time, songs just fit, they just match with exactly how you feel, how with exactly what is going on in the world. If there was any musical that can be directly applied to now, to this strange, daunting, difficult and life changing times that we are currently living in, it would be Jason Robert Brown’s ‘Songs For A New World’, and over the last three nights, that it exactly what we have been treated to.
Performed and put together in isolation, this performance of ‘Songs For A New World’ brought together four musical theatre greats and some glistening new talent, all displaying some incredible storytelling through song ability and blowing us away with their powerful vocals. Rachel Tucker, Cedric Neal, Rachel John and Ramin Karimloo played multiple characters throughout, each telling stand alone stories of characters reaching a point in their lives where they find themselves facing a challenge, facing a choice or reevaluating their lives for some reason.
The show opens with ‘The New World’ and we are confronted with images of theatres still standing dark, and the characters struggling to come to terms with a big change in their lives, something happening that beyond their control. It felt very striking and fitting to what the world is currently going through and as the show progresses through the stories, we are often reminded of current world affairs. Cedric Neal’s powerful performance of ‘On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship, 1492’ is accompanied by images of Windrush and the recent Black Lives Matter protests, as his character wishes for the safe passage of those on the ship and holds onto the promise of a better life in the new world.
Rachel Tucker displays her incredible vocals in a range of characters, from an emotional performance of ‘Stars and the Moon’ as a wealthy lady in a loveless marriage to her brilliantly funny rendition of ‘Suyabaya-Santa’ as a passionate Mrs Claus tired of being abandoned by Santa all the time. Rachel John impresses with her ability to bring so much emotion and power into the softer moments, and I particularly enjoyed her act 2 duet of ‘I’d Give It All For All’ with Ramin Karimloo. Cedric Neal has appeared in many an online concert recently including ‘Turn Up’ and ‘Hello Harry!’ and I am always impressed with his vocals, and how effortless he makes it look to sing such powerful songs. His performance of ‘Flying Home’ was exceptional. Ramin Karimloo amazes throughout with impressive performances of ‘She Cries’ and ‘The World Was Dancing’ as well as a lovely duet with Neal in ‘The River Won’t Flow’.
Among the songs from these four stage favourites was a standout moment from a new talent. Shem Omari James appears as a young lad destined for a successful career in basketball. As a line from his song ‘The Steam train’ mentions ‘you don’t know me but you will’, and that is definitely true for this young performer fresh out of performing arts school. This song speaks volumes with those who have fought through hard times, given all that they can find themselves a successful story, and Shem is definitely a talent to watch for the future.
As this is a different kind of musical, with no story connecting the characters together and each performer portraying different characters throughout, all with their own story, I did find myself needing some context. I’ll admit that I had the song list up whilst I was watching the concert, with small descriptions of what each song was about. Having that little bit of context allowed me to feel much more involved in each story and I found myself getting drawn into these characters lives, all through these short little songs, these little snippets into their worlds.
To conclude, Songs for a New World is exactly the show that the world needs to see now. In these troubling times, there are a lot of people facing hardships, facing difficult decisions and feeling that they are at a crossroads in their lives. We can associate with the stories of these characters, and apply their words to what we are going through. The final number ‘Hear My Song’ really hits home, a lullaby of sorts telling us that although things are hard right now, although we are all facing hard times, we will get through it, we will be fine. I’ll round this review of with this quote, something we all need to hear right now.
‘I know it’s dark right now
But just believe somehow
That soon there will be light’