Review: Songs for A New World from Buicentennial Productions
This is how you come out of the gate swinging!
In its inaugural production, BUICEntennial puts on Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for A New World. Songs for a new world has become the boogie man of contemporary musical theatre, because it’s one of the toughest shows to cast, it’s almost impossible to find a person to sing these roles AND act them. Secondly, JRB’s music is a maze of melody and rhythm that most musical directors refuse to take on.
Songs for a New World was first produced at WPA theatre Off-Broadway in 1995. Starring Billy Porter (Tony Winner for Kinky Boots, Pose), Andrea Martin (In the Heights), Barry Ashmankas (The Prom), And Jessica Molaskey (literal broadway veteran, Sunday in the Park with George). If you know anything about any of these people you know that’s a CAST. Through the years, only few people have taken on the behemoth and done it justice. Most recently it was revived for a NY Encores production starring Shoshana Bean (Wicked), Mykal Kilgore (the Wiz Live!), Collin O’Donnell (Anything Goes, Arrow) and Solea Pfeiffer (Hamilton, Camelot). These are all stars casts and finding that kind of GENUINE talent is like finding a needle in a haystack but BUICEntennial was up for the challenge and it paid off.
Interestingly enough, you never see runs of Songs for a New World. It’s one of the most loved song cycles but Theatres don’t produced it outside of one night only concerts.
It’s usually a fundraiser show because, it’s a hard one to sustain. Vocally, it’s super easy to shred your chords beyond recognition for one night but with a run you’ve got to be consistent. Musically, Songs for a New World requires a FULL band. It’s not really a show that you could do with backing tracks. But with a full band and a cast full of the most consistent actors in ATL (and NYC) BUICEntennial presents Songs for a New World.
Before I talk about the cast I’ve got to acknowledge this creative team for their hard work!
Like I said, it’s not an easy one to do. From teaching FOUR actors an entire score and then staging this piece, it’s a massive undertaking. Director/Choreographer Ricardo Aponte tapped into some sort of 6th sense with this one. I’ve never envisioned this show’s blocking or how things would look but after this I can’t see them any other way. Aponte is known for digging into the details and he did exactly that with this piece. Shoutout to the music directors, Amanda Wansa- Morgan and Harry N. Haines. Everything was there. The word of the day for this show is DYNAMICS. Every crescendo and diminuendo was perfectly accented, and I appreciated that just as a musical theatre nerd.
I also have to send a huge shoutout to the set designer, Zack Vandever. This is the best use of space I’ve seen at the Lyric. Without a doubt, most shows in the black box space feel either crammed in or too small but this was perfect. There were levels, and set pierces that furthered the story and I appreciated that the most. It truly set the tone for the show.
Starring Adrianna Trachell (Men with Money, Newsies, also known for being a Queen) Juan Carlos Unzueta (Little Shop of Horrors, In the Heights, also known for being a God amongst men) Maggie Salley (Footloose, Les Miserables, known for having possibly the most versatile voice and endless belt in theatre) and Jared Bradshaw (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Broadway, Parade, And known for his performance in “acting BEATS: the musical”).
This cast is ridiculous and as I told each one of them. This production is a gross display of talent that filled my heart with joy, love, and a great dislike (in the best way) for them. The cast is four people. That’s it, and they barely get to leave the stage. And when they’re not belting a song centered around them, they’re supporting whoever is in the Driver’s seat at the moment.
Each actor has their moment to shine and they make sure that you’ll remember their names when you leave. every one of them is making smart informed choices, which is rare when you’re dealing with dense material like this. Most importantly, they’ve owned the material and are having fun with it. During “Surabaya-Santa” you can really see how much fun they’re having. That energy just propels the show so much farther than a cast just faking it.
Another tough part of Songs for a New World is It’s so demanding of every part of your voice.
From the head, mix, and to the chest, it’s using every part of your voice. I’ve NEVER heard anyone sing this score the way Juan did. He DID that. Someone make sure he’s ok and give him a hug cause that type of singing is straight from the soul!
He redefined what a tenor is for me. I don’t want to hear anything about “well I can sing Maria.” Can you full voice the entirety of Songs for a New World? No? Then I don’t want to hear it!! Also Man 1 (the character’s name) is traditionally played by black countertenors. (Billy Porter, Ty Taylor, And Mykal Kilgore)
Juan brought so much of himself into the role that it’s hard to even imagine that it wasn’t written specifically for him. Especially in the changes they made for “Steam Train”, I loved them and they added new colors to the show.
Let me tell you about Maggie Salley! I don’t know where she came from but my God! That’s a performer right there. Her voice is entrancing. It’s magnetic in the way it brings you into the story and is clear in its intentions. I think I finally got what Bobby meant in Company when he said “Marry me a little” cause I was ready to propose! Jared Bradshaw is insane. This man is not only making good choices but they’re strong and he sticks to them. If you don’t go for anything else, go for his dancing! It’s really incredible watching him specifically during “She Cries” his thought process is so clear. It’s #Goals.
Then there’s the Queen. She’s the nicest human being that also happens to give LIFE onstage. Adrianna Trachell is a dream. She soars in songs like “Stars and the Moon” and makes the audience laugh with “Surbaya-Santa”. There’s a fullness to everything she does, it’s so refreshing, and I love her for it.
Let me be clear, songs for a new world is a show for ACTORS.
It’s literally watching people perform monologues with music. Acting through song is way harder than most people think. Unlike monologues, you’ve got the extra layers of breath control, worrying about pitch, trying to self regulate volume, and on top of it all diction. And they blew me away.
Songs for a new world runs through June 1st! Buy those tickets now because they will sell out!