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Review: New “Songs for a New World” Cast Album

"Songs for a New World" brings a new world to its songs.

Photo courtesy of Playbill

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Ever since its premiere in 1995, Songs for a New World has been somewhat of a cult classic among the musical theater community – a favorite of amateur theater groups and schools to perform. Composer Jason Robert Brown’s first work isn’t exactly a musical, but it is musical theater. It’s performed by a group of two men and two women – each of the four actors never plays the same character twice, but still undergoes character development and growth. The show consists of sixteen separate, seemingly unrelated songs, but they’re all about, according to Brown, “one moment …  hitting the wall and having to make a choice, or take a stand, or turn around and go back.”

The 2018 production of Songs for a New World at New York City Center brought something very exciting – a 2019 cast recording, a new version of the original, beloved, album.

The biggest and (debatably) the most exciting change in this new album is the orchestration. The original had a score heavily supported by synthesizers, but the new version has new orchestrations by Brown himself, nearly eliminating the synthesizer element. This brings an entire new dimension to the show, giving it a much more organic, spacious feel that emphasizes the tender beauty of the intimate score.

The performances don’t hurt, either. The new cast consists of Colin Donnell, who’s perhaps best known for playing Billy in the 2011 Anything Goes and for his roles in Arrow and Chicago Med; Solea Pfeiffer, who’s portrayed Eliza Hamilton on Broadway, Maria in West Side Story, and is slated to appear in Camelot this March alongside Lin-Manuel Miranda; Broadway up-and-comer Mykal Kilgore; and Shoshana Bean, the prolific singer-songwriter who’s worked with such artists as Michael Jackson and Ariana Grande, and who’s starred in Wicked, and will soon star in Waitress, on Broadway. The voices of the new cast blend together satisfyingly, with each member standing out when needed – a necessity in a four-person song cycle. Each member gets their show-stopping moments, but always remains a part of the whole.

The new version has new orchestrations by Brown himself, nearly eliminating the synthesizer element. This brings an entire new dimension to the show, giving it a much more organic, spacious feel that emphasizes the tender beauty of the intimate score. ”

Kilgore’s high notes astonish, with a stratospheric tenor voice whose range reminds of Tituss Burgess or Aaron Tveit. It’s easy to point to “King of the World,” the optimistic solo that speaks in denial of fallen power and vulnerability, but his real breakout performance here is in “Flying Home,” where he sings of losing a loved one. His tender voice assisted by Brown’s heartbreaking lyrics make the song.

Another beautiful moment is the Act II love ballad “I’d Give It All For You,” beautifully delivered by Donnell and Pfeiffer. Their passionate performance is near perfect here: it’s a rare musical theater song that is able to deal with one constant, doubtless emotion so well. And of course, it’s pretty much impossible to talk about Songs for a New World without bringing up “Stars and the Moon,” perhaps Brown’s most famous song to date, which was immortalized by Audra McDonald’s legendary performance. Bean more than delivers justice to the song, one of the most tightly and gorgeously written numbers in the contemporary musical theater canon. The score is chock-full of brilliant songs, both heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny (Brown’s parody of Kurt Weill’s “Surabaya-Johnny” entitled “Surabaya-Santa” sung by a hysterical Mrs. Claus is a favorite, especially with Bean’s performance).

Jason Robert Brown is a very interesting and brilliant composer. He’s a three-time Tony winner for his scores for Parade and Bridges of Madison County (which premiered at the Berkshires’ own Williamstown Theater Festival!), writer of the hit show (and later movie) The Last Five Years, and composer of a plethora of other shows such as 13 and Honeymoon in Vegas. Brown’s shows all have entirely different textures to them, yet retain that JRB feeling. His music has been called folk-rock, country-rock, reminiscent of classic Broadway, but really it’s all of the above. What’s great about this show, his very first, is that the style is all over the place: there’s full on country rock in “The River Won’t Flow,” soft hymns like the “Christmas Lullaby,” and everything in between. You’re able to see Brown’s music evolve. Songs for a New World isn’t perfect: it’s his start, and some of the songs aren’t as tightly written as they could be. But It’s the start of something pretty fabulous, and it’s a pretty fabulous start.

About the Writer
Sam Tucker-Smith, Staff Writer








Sam has been writing for the Echo for a year. When not writing his beautiful articles (and totally not missing his deadlines), you can...

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