Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Songs for a New World
Director/choreographer Gerry McIntyre effectively shifts his performers from spot to spot on a bare stage adorned simply with a black grand piano. Musical director Dante Harrell plays throughout and occasionally sings solos from his seat as well. Theatergoers might recall his fine contribution to Nina Simone: Four Women last summer at the Stockbridge theater.
McIntyre utilizes upper landings on either side of the stage and that is where Company Member #1 (Alexandria J. Henderson), dressed in green by costumer Shivanna Sooknanan, opens the performance. The other actors will join her on "The New World." They vocalize, metaphorically, over an ocean's expanse and the time frame is 1492.
"Just One Step" finds Mia Munn, wearing a red outfit and playing Company Member #3, poised and perhaps ready to leap from a penthouse. Next, during "The River Won't Flow," Company Member #4 (Michael Wordly) and Company Member #2 (Nathe Rowbotham) combine voices with pianist Harrell. Henderson returns with a plaintive "I'm Not Afraid." Rowbotham's depiction of "Stars and the Moon" is heartfelt.
The show moves swiftly and its flow is sweet and soothing. Throughout, images and fitting art work designed to accompany the tunes appear behind the actors. Lighting and projection designer Shawn Edward Boyle provides pivotal tone and atmosphere. When Harrell, for example, sings to "King of the World," the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. frame the scene. That is followed by a touching moment within "I'd Give It All for You." The production concludes with a reprise of "The New World" which leads into the finale, "Hear My Song."
The talented artists' strengths are complementary. All sing well and are varied in physicality. Those components fuel distinctive performance. They are backed by Harrell's piano and also unseen musicians Miriam Bolkosky on cello while Diego Mongue adds percussive drum rhythm. All the while, it is Gerry McIntyre at the helm who pulls various creative elements together. He, as he did with the Nina Simone project last summer, injects significant movement when necessary. At other times, the actors remain in place. Suffice to say that, without precise coordination, this particular performance effort could fall far short. This ensemble, however, maximizes Brown's still-relevant music.
Songs for a New World is not a plotted play. Thematically, though, the pertinence is its positive nature and spirit of hopefulness. Yes, the course of relationships might meander, but doom is not necessarily a given. The future of the world is, for certain, daunting but nihilism is a dead end. Instead, this presentation recommends life.
Brown wrote the scores for Parade, The Last Five Years and The Bridges of Madison County. Songs was his first significant show to appear in New York City. He wrote the lyrics when he was in his twenties and before the dawn of the 21st century. The BTG rendering is energetic and does not feel dated. Brown, now 52, gives us songs which are beckoning. In a way, this presentation is both refreshing and reassuring. It suggests that all is not lost and that art, perhaps, shines a light on promise and potential.
Songs for a New World runs through August 20, 2022, at Berkshire Theatre Group, Unicorn Theatre, 6 East St., Stockbridge MA. for information and tickets, call 413-997-4444 or visit www.BerkshireTheatreGroup.org.