Upon entering the Friargate Theatre, the six-member cast are already on stage, in position, introducing the delightful unexpectedness that is Songs For A New World.
I knew very little about Jason Robert Brown’s musical before seeing CHMS’s take on it, only that it was a show that rejected conventions. Marketed as a ‘song-cycle’, there is virtually no dialogue or plot for the audience to follow. Consequently, each piece becomes a performance in its own right, linked by themes of survival, longing and the search for identity.
The stage is marked with dilapidated wooden props: step ladders piled with books, desks and rickety chairs, coat racks adorned with clothes but also letters, which also swing from string on the ceiling. It is visually effective, and evokes the wistful, world-weary tone of the show but is potentially meant for a larger theatre. The props serve to force the performers into a more confined space and proved to be more of a hindrance when one palette was accidentally sent crashing into another (although this was dealt with seamlessly by the cast and band). Occasionally I couldn’t see action on the other side of the stage or right at the front of it due to the restricted spacing. Nonetheless the production team have made good use of the space available.
The slightly cosy staging, however, perfectly matched the intimacy of this show. On to the most important matter: This. Cast. Is. Dynamite.
My slight reservations about a show consisting of one song after another, with no particular narrative to ease me through, were completely forgotten after the first note. I, like the rest of the audience, was captivated from start to finish. The sheer talent of every cast member was plain to see, particularly in group numbers when their chemistry and pitch-perfect harmonies could be enjoyed to their full potential. The songs were accompanied by a five-piece band that filled the small theatre perfectly, becoming almost like a seventh cast member.
In a show like this, when vocal ability is so paramount, the acting has the potential to be overlooked. This cast should be applauded for the detail of their executions; the smallest shrug, smile or glance told us so much about the story they were portraying.
I think all that remains for me to do is make a public plea for a CHMS cast recording of these songs.
Tickets for Friday and Saturday shows available here: https://ridinglights.org/songs-for-a-new-world/