Musicals schusicals…they are the ultimate theatre cheese fests. Bursting into song and dance, I dislike the distance from a “believable” reality (and the fact I can’t sing or dance!) I prefer the dramatic grit to the teeth and a crafty finale punch to the gut rather than a sugarcoated, glitter deep fried and smiley miley virus splatter of song goop. What I am not telling you is that I’ve enjoyed Les Miserables (my blog may be held as evidence), Lion King (my 21st Birthday surprise, my beloved childhood Disney video died a gruesome death – tangled tape) and my iPod holds a shuffled mix of Disney classics, Moulin Rouge & Hairspray. I’m also secretly yearning for Gypsy tickets (using my little sister as an excuse). So…this is slightly awkward/failed introduction on why I hate musicals *insert face palm*
Songs for a New World is not a musical nor a play so I tread very different theatre territory here. I guess it was like a 90 minute continuous song loop with four cast members providing us with an imagination. I am sure we have all listened to songs and mentally pictured our very own music video…or not. I also embarrassed myself by declaring “I love this song!” whilst listening to Eternal’s I Wanna Be The Only One on my iPod and forgetting I was in a public place. Anyway, I did worry Songs for a New World was going to be a slight ear sore.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, I knew this performance was something worth commemorating – it couldn’t survive 20 years if it was a flop! Being my first visit to St James Theatre, I was stunned at the modern hotelsque “posh dosh” decor. This sense of modernism continued onto the stage as the set appeared to be something out of Dragons’ Den. Sitting close to the stage, my friend and I discussed his drama school heydays and my ‘appalling’ knowledge on the show. Halfway through our conversation, the lights dimmed ready to transport me towards a new theatre world.
Watching her blue nails flutter, Cynthia Erivo was the show’s song bird. Every song made her neck extend and body tense – it was simply fascinating to watch her movement reacting to the lyrics. Her Christmas Lullaby stung my eyes. She embodied the vulnerability, suffering, inspiration and a sudden glimpse of hope: “And I will be like Mother Mary, With a blessing in my soul, And the future of the world inside of me” Perhaps it’s my Christian vibes holding my faith at ransom, but the song became Cynthia’s superpower.
Then you got
Mr Muscle Dean John-Wilson who sang the very soulful tunes of King of the World and The Steam Train. He brought a youthful attitude to the stage, expressing a sense of typical streetboy ego yet overshadowing doubt. Not thinking of consequences, his story teaches you the possession of unstoppable nature can indeed trip you up and reality bites! Like a young boy told to “man up”, I loved witnessing Dean’s growth within song – a fiery determination to succeed. Also, can I add his impressive basketball spinning.
Damian Humbley seemed to embody a frazzled mind of a troubled businessman/father. Always reminiscing, Damian captures a lost soul spirit – a bloke who wishes he was ‘young’ again. She Cries and The River Won’t Flow cried for a sympathetic ear. The River Won’t Flow was a song dressed as inspirational, but lyrically disheartening: “You’ll find a river full of money where the rich fish flow, I said, ‘I’ll catch me them fish’, And I’ve searched low and searched high”. He echoed the foolish belief that the ‘grass is greener on the other side’ and a hunger for success, perhaps even greed and regret.
Finally, Jenna Russell provided the light and shade to the performance. Her quirky yet hilarious numbers, Just One Step and Surbaya Santa, made me – and the audience – giggle. It was indeed the perfect comedy relief – a recommended belly laugh jiggle. I also noticed Jenna’s eye contact hammering the emotional cue “Are you listening to my story?” towards a chosen audience member. Sitting in Row C, I received Jenna’s gift and hoped my eyes could reply ‘I’m listening’. Takes a special woman to make another woman laugh, Jenna can certainly own that crown!
After the performance, my friend and I had an amazing opportunity (or stand patiently in the lobby) to meet the cast. We wanted to thank them for their amazing performance – I even gave them my first standing ovation. They were super friendly and signed our programmes. We also had the honour of having a deep conversation with Damian, who talked about his inspiration and exploration towards his character. He was fantastic and gave me an exclusive insight into the actor’s perspective on the stage.
Feeling slightly giddy and giggly, I’m unsure whether it is possible to be drunk on musical theatre. It did want me to grab my magic carpet and shout Aladdin’s A Whole New World (which in theory has nothing to do with Songs for a New World), but the essence of discovery always excites the heart. Be prepared to start humming the songs throughout the week, even annoying your work colleagues in the process.
Book your tickets to Songs For a New World at St James Theatre here. Ends on 8th August 2015.