Time Out New York
If the current crop of jukebox musical revues can pay tribute to the collected songs of well-known composers (Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller in Smokey Joe’s Café, Howard Ashman in Hundred of Hats or Johnny Burke in Swinging on a Star), why not give the future a break and celebrate the debut of a new songwriting talent? Jason Robert Brown, the 25-year-old composer/lyricist whose 16 songs are strung together in Songs for a New World by Daisy Prince (daughter of Harold), displays tremendous promise.
A musical director for Michael John LaChiusa’s The Petrified Prince, Brown helped Yoko Ono give fresh dramatic life to her achingly sweet songs in New York Rock as arranger and orchestrator. He is also working on two new musicals, one of which has a book by Alfred Uhry and direction by Harold Prince.
In Songs for a New World, Brown is dizzily, unabashedly confident, and infuses his songs with optimism, as the hummable title song, “The New World,” suggests. The fresh-faced singers – Brooks Ashmanskas, Andrea Burns, Jessica Molaskey and Billy Porter – look out toward the horizon, their songs embracing life with hopeful vigor. The revue drifts through a series of gospel-driven ballads, funky R&B’s, drolly funny set pieces and heart-twisting love songs, the lyrics shot through with wit, intelligence, and enthusiasm for life’s crazy possibilities.
First-time director Daisy Prince tends to be repetitious in her staging, but she knows how to let each singer emerge as a fully defined personality, and with Brown at the helm of a brash five-man band, Songs for a New World is a gratifying good time.