Guest reviewer Jay Catterson went a saw this new vision for Songs For a New World.
Songs for a New World by Fabulist Theatre
Until April 1st
As most Vancouver gays were at Rogers Arena watching Ariana Grande belt out her multi-octave pop hits, I went against the grain and hopped on over to PAL Studio Theatre in Coal Harbour to experience the first show written by the guy who gave Ariana her first big break on Broadway, renowned Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years, Parade, Bridges of Madison County).
JRB’s 1995 off-Broadway song cycle Songs for a New World has been reimagined in Fabulist Theatre’s inaugural production, co-directed by Damon Jang and Mary Littlejohn. The four-person cast has been expanded to sixteen singers spanning a multitude of ages and ethnicities with the narrative of JRB’s songs reflecting the current global socio-political climate.
For the most part, this gamble worked; scenes reflecting poverty-stricken areas such as the Downtown East Side and the Philippines, the Syrian refugee crisis, and Canadians welcoming immigrants were heart-wrenchingly effective.
Standout moments include Regi Nevada’s “On The Deck”, Kate MacColl’s touching “Stars And The Moon”, Aerhyn Lau’s stunning vocals on “She Cries”, and a gut-bustingly hilarious “Surabaya Santa” by Cheryl Mullen.
But other moments didn’t fare as well, such as the painfully awkward Act One closer “The Steam Train”, “I’m Not Afraid of Anything” sung by a Somali child soldier, and the treacly moment between two gay lovers at an airport during “I’d Give It All For You”.
Personally, I felt that casting the show with sixteen felt a little bloated and should have been reduced down to at least eight strong singer/actors. And please, somebody throw these singers a mike! The cast’s vocals were often drowned out by the band, plus the PAL Studio Theatre space was unforgiving when it comes to audio; its dark, cavernous space devoured any remaining ounce of sound coming out of the cast’s mouths.
But flaws aside, this production of Songs for a New World is something to experience just to hear Jason Robert Brown’s brilliant score performed live (under the outstanding musical direction by Angus Kellet) and to see the show reinterpreted by a multicultural cast. If only they can get those singers miked-up before this production closes…