Loosely tying a cycle of songs together, Jason Robert Brown’s music and lyrics manage to capture the progression of some of life’s cycle in “Songs for a New World” at the Warner Theatre in Torrington. Under the excellent direction of Katherine Ray and superior music direction by Dan Koch, the ensemble performing the show at the Nancy Marine Studio Theatre at the Warner is thoroughly entertaining.
Without the cohesiveness of plot, this show relies on storytelling to move freely back and forth from sadness to humor. Songs performed as vignettes seem completely disconnected at times, even though promotional material points to all the songs having “one critical moment” in a person’s life. While those moments are not always tied together clearly, the music is so strong and clearly defined that it holds all the “song stories” together well.
Nathan Burke’s elegant minimal set consists of majestic, sail-shaped gossamer fabric that extends from floor to ceiling through which Burke’s lighting design reveals the colors of emotions the characters experience. Whether the song is about a man who wants to leave his woman, but can’t because “She Cries,” or a woman so desperate for love and affection that she teeters on the edge in “Just One Step,” raw human feelings are transformed and translated into heartfelt lyrics.
That the talent of the Warner’s four-member ensemble is so fresh and fervent truly lends itself to the concept of a “New World.” Caitlin Mandracchia and Mensah Robinson make their Warner debut here and both deliver powerful performances and have voices that will hopefully be heard again here. Holly Martin has a strong stage presence and a good vocal range, but her articulation could be stronger. Matt Martin’s voice is smooth and flows freely and naturally as does his performance.
While the actors sing about craving a “New World” through different design, Renee Purdy’s costumes reflect the experiences of the characters seamlessly. This is especially true in the numbers “The Flagmaker, 1775” in which Holly Martin dons a costume suggesting Betsy Ross. Purdy’s costumes also enhance Matt Martin’s characters as a sailor, a soldier, or a prisoner.
Overall, this is a most enjoyable production. Since the orchestra plays a huge role in tying the many stories together here, it is important to shine a spotlight on the members. Dan Koch plays piano and conducts and Brian Pia is on keyboard 2. Mike Conroy plays bass, Scott Kellogg on drums, and Seth Kellogg and Bob Kogut command percussion. Absolutely, there is a sense of a “New World” in this fine production. It plays through June 22. Box office: 860-489-7180.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association, and covers art and culture in a blog for CBS and CBS-CT. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]