Review – “Songs for a New World”

from-left-jess-godwin-alanda-coon-michael-arthur-and-jays-small.jpgProduction: Songs for a New World

Producers: Bohemian Theatre Ensemble 

Whazzit About? Songs for a New World is a musical review with a very loosely-connected theme, first performed in 1995, featuring songs written by young composer Jason Robert Brown, a precursor to his highly-acclaimed epic musical Parade. Bohemian Theatre first presented this show in late 2007, selling out its last two weeks.  Because of this success, they have (thankfully) reprised the production at the Theater Building for a limited run.    

Strengths: Chicago has always been a great musical-theater town, and this fact is largely evident in this show – the four young performers (Jayson Books, Michael Arthur, Jess Godwin and Alanda Coon) offer up soaring vocals and dead-on ensemble singing.  Jayson Brooks (seen recently as Colehouse Walker in Porchlight’s award-winning Ragtime) is at his best in the energetic second act opener “King of the World”.  Mezzo-soprano Jess Godwin brings sweetness and vulnerability to the lovely “I’m Not Afraid”.  Michael Arthur brings an edginess to the contemplative “She Cries”.  And Alana Coon champions the show with the most variant musical styles, from the punchy “Surabaya-Santa” to the determined “The Flagmaker 1775”.  Though all have great solo voices, the talents of musical director Andra Velis Simon are apparent in the impeccable blend of their group vocals, many of the chords are tight, with dissonant intervals.  In addition to the vocal work, the show looks great, with the set built with wooden ramps and floors, and interwoven slats as a backdrop, giving one the feeling of being inside the hull of a wooden ship.    

Weaknesses: There is little here not to like.  As one of my favorite Chicago theatre critics, John Olson of TalkinBroadway.com, so eloquently put it: “The performances only disappoint in that there still seems to be not enough time to hear each of the four performers sing as much as we’d like. With voices like these in performers who can act the heck of our Brown’s character-driven songs, it’s tempting to wonder why we need dialogue in musical theater at all and to resent it for taking time away from hearing more of these four in their previous musical theater work.”.

Summary: Thankfully for Chicago, Boho has reprised this gem of a show, following their sold-out run at Heartland Studio.  No, it’s not an evening of revelatory aha moments, but the glorious voices and performances of the character-driven material makes for a wonderful evening.  Recommended.

Rating: «««½ 

 Personnel and Show Times

Composer:

Jason Robert Brown
Director: Elizabeth Margolius
Music Director: Andra Velis Simon
Musicians: Kevin Brown, Sean Burke, Nick Sula
Set Designer: John Zuiker
Lights: Julian Pike
Costumes: Theresa Ham
Stage Manager: Meg Love
   
Featuring: Jayson Brooks   (Man 1)
  Michael Arthur   (Man 2)
  Jess Godwin   (Woman 1)
  Alanda Coon   (Woman 2)
   
Dates: Through February 10, 2008
Location: Theatre Building (map)
Show Times: Thursday through Saturday, 8:00pm.  Sunday matinee at 2pm. 

(From Left) Alanda Coon, Michael Arthur, and Jess Godwin