Regional Reviews: Seattle
Songs for a New World
With apologies to rabid Jason Robert Brown fans, the performers, not the tunes, are the things worth savoring in the Seattle premiere staging of Songs for a New World at Crepe de Paris Dinner Cabaret. Not taking away from Brown's undeniable talents, this revue, now 7 years old, points up how far he has come with his increasingly successful songwriting efforts on Parade and The Last 5 Years.
The Raggedy Z Productions staging of the show, with pulsating musical direction by RJ Tancioco, is performed expertly by four strong Seattle based talents, familiar from their work at such larger houses as the 5th Avenue and Village Theatres. Though director Bill Berry has directed them to play the show as if it were being presented in a large theatre rather than an intimate cabaret, the winning cast still scores individually and as a unit.
Ann Evans, a solid, mainstay veteran of Seattle's musical theatre scene for over a decade, is handed the two plum songs in the show, and she does them full justice. Despite the fact that Brown's "Stars and the Moon" is becoming one of the most overdone dramatic numbers to come from recent vintage musicals, Evans' heartfelt and layered interpretation make it sparkle like new, while the Kurt Weillian spoofery of "Surabaya-Santa" brings down the house in Evans' saucy, sexy rendition.
Though the three other cast members may have lesser material, their vocal and dramatic interpretations of Brown's songs are no less impressive. Ty Willis, a woefully underused talent who seems to be just waiting for someone to showcase him in a starring role like the Leading Player in Pippin, sings his big numbers like "King of the World" with joy, power, and abandon. The radiantly talented Anna Lauris is best served in this outing by "I'm Not Afraid of Anything," a song that happily seems to sum up part of this lady's appeal on stage. Louis Hobson, Seattle's dominant young leading man in musicals just now, shows continued growth and confidence in his physical performance which matches his strong baritone, particularly on the act two opener "The World Was Dancing." The foursome sounds great together in all the group numbers, though the frequently reprised title song grows less and less welcome as the show goes on.
Despite the skill of the performers, a certain general preachiness and lack of humor in the material makes Songs for a New World a show that doesn't so much grow on you as wear you out. This is one show I wanted to like a lot more than I did, but I lay the blame totally on the material and applaud the presentation. May such efforts next time be devoted to a worthier project.
Songs for A New World runs through October 12th at Crepe de Paris, 1333 5th Avenue, Seattle. For further information visit Raggedy Z's web site at www.raggedyz.com/newworld.- David-Edward Hughes