New York Post
YOU look across a crowded gallery and your eye picks out a Van Gogh. You surf a radio dial and your ear instantly alights on a bit of Tchaikovsky, a soupcon of Scarlatti, or a phrase or two of Cole Porter or Stephen Sondheim.
It’s the artist’s voice – personal, distinctive and with a profile as unmistakable as a fingerprint.
There were many tunes in 25-year-old Jason Robert Brown’s “Songs for a New World,” which opened at the WPA Theater last night. Many tunes, but, as yet, no voice. Or at least no voice that belonged to Brown and Brown alone.
There were songs spiritual, songs cute, songs hysterical, songs that could have been sung by Paul Robeson, one song a satirical sendup of Kurt Weill. Then there were songs that could have been written by Sondheim, or by Maltby and Shire or by … well, one or two other folk.
It’s not a bad idea. If you go round the chronologically arranged Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam – talking of Van Gogh as we were a little earlier – you’ll notice that it took several tough years for Van Gogh to become Van Gogh.
Brown seems to be learning his trade. He has a gift for narrative songs, whether it’s a woman faking suicide or another woman celebrating pregnancy, and although musically he is somewhat too apt to shove words over a simple rhythmic ostinato, he can come up with some quite solid melodies.
It is also interesting, for the possible political fallout if nothing else, to note that, judging by many of these songs, the concerns of the Generation X have moved back from the cheery cynicism of the yuppies, leap-frogging a generation to the now-aging Baby Boomers and their upbeat/uplift that was always piously ready to contrast materialism with idealism.
The WPA has given these songs a most persuasive setting – with four first-rate singer/performers (Brooks Ashmanskas, Andrea Burns, Jessica Molaskey and Billy Porter) and an attractively lively staging by Daisy Prince. Directing must run in her family.
The small effective orchestra is led by Brown himself on the piano, and the whole show is worth an extended run somewhere. Brown, I suspect, is going to be where it’s at, once he’s worked out where at is. It’s good to see him at the start.