Review: ‘Songs for a New World’ – Encores Off Center at City Center

By Jonathan Spira on 30 June 2018
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It’s hard to know what to do with “Songs for a New World,” Jason Brown’s brilliant 1995 revue. It is a piece of musical theater, isn’t it? Or is it a song cycle? What was the plot again and who is Murray?

None of this matters.

Indeed, “It’s about one moment / That moment you think you know where you stand / And in that one moment / The things that you’re sure of slip from your hand.”

That’s the opening number performed by Shoshana Bean, Colin Donnell, Mykal Kilgore, and Solea Pfeiffer who – in between rather significant entry applause – join together in a message of hope.

If that doesn’t sound faintly familiar, wait for the second number, “Stars and the Moon,” which you probably heard in many a cabaret as well as on albums by Audra McDonald, Betty Buckley, and Sutton Foster among others.

When we see Shoshana Bean stand on the window ledge of her Manhattan penthouse, airing her grievances about her husband Murray and singing “I’m Not Afraid of Anything,” you could be forgiven for suspecting there is more of a plot. But it turns out that Brown and director Daisy Prince (Hal Prince’s daughter) put together songs he had written for other purposes into “Songs for a New World,” the common denominator being Brown’s singular voice and the powerful undercurrents of his music.

That there is no common thread becomes abundantly clear in “Surabaya-Santa,” a song Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht would have come up with had they given thought to a hard drinking and chain smoking Mrs. Claus in the body of Shoshana Bean, who can’t take another Christmas holiday on her own and whose sexy fur-trimmed corset is just one adjustment away from a wardrobe malfunction.

“Songs” made its off-Broadway debut in 1998, when Brown was 25. His words were prescient at the time: “You don’t know me,” his lyrics in “Steam Train” go. “But you will.”

The limited engagement is part of City Center’s Encores Off Center series and will be followed by “Gone Missing” and “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope.”

THE DETAILS

Songs for a New World
Limited engagement through June 30, 2018
New York City Center
131 W 55th Street
New York, N.Y. 10019
Runtime: 1 hr. and 40 min.
www.nycitycenter.org

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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