SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD by Jason Robert Brown, directed by Chris Abraham (Color and Light Productions). At Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill). To December 16. $34, stu $20. 416-866-8666. See Continuing, page 95. Rating: NN Rating: NN
In director Chris Abraham's current production of Songs For A New World, the world is undeniably flat.
New York composer Jason Robert Brown, who later created The Last Five Years and the Tony Award-winning Parade, contemporized musical theatre with this piece, writing it as a song cycle, musical numbers that unite to tell a story.
Four performers sing 16 character-driven songs, each assuming several different roles. There's no dialogue to serve as a narrative, and the show often fails to cohere.
Director Abraham tries to unify the piece, which features Sharron Matthews, Tracy Michailidis, Thom Allison and Jason Knight, but ends up making it more muddled. Michailidis and Knight perform love songs with vapid, longing expressions. Many entrances and exits have no believable motivation, and the actors are often left without purpose.
The sparse set incorporates a gifted three-piece jazz ensemble, plus five large vases filled with water. One of these vases is half full at the start of the production, and symbolically gets filled for Act 2 in an implausible show of New World optimism.
Jessica McCormick's black wardrobe creates a moody New York vibe, but the women's tottering high heels, while acceptable on ingenue Michailidis, inhibit Matthews, who sometimes removes them anyway.
Matthews does enliven the stage with her exuberant cabaret style. But her big, round voice requires no microphone, and the use of one in this small space only makes lyrics indistinct, crippling the show's best songs.
Allison stands out, too, despite having to portray the stereotypical basketball-playing, jailed black man from a broken home. The women are also confined by their roles, playing a needy lot who marry for money, please and appease men and turn a blind eye when betrayed in love.
Brown may have taken a post-modernist approach to creating musical theatre, but in this New World, society's messages still sound the same.