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The current Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presentation of the marvelous musical revue Songs for a New World not only focuses a well-deserved spotlight on the work of award-winning composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown, but it also provides a splendid showcase for the extraordinary acting and vocal talents of Mary Cuchetti, Julie Foldesi, Colby Foytik, and Linzey Jones and superlative musicianship — and stamina — of keyboardists McCrae Hardy and Julie Florin. Indeed, Jones quite literally steals the show.
For Mary Cuchetti as Woman 1 and especially Linzey Jones as Man 2, Songs for a New World offers the much-coveted opportunity to deliver a star-making performance. And they do.
In “Just One Step,” Cuchetti is hysterical (and hysterically funny) as a really, really Desperate Housewife venting her marital frustrations while teetering on the ledge outside her apartment on the 52nd floor of a Manhattan high-rise. Then, in “Surabaya-Santa,” she brings the house down as an increasingly disgruntled Mrs. Claus, who finds know-it-all Santa and North Pole life equally insufferable. Later, Cuchetti demonstrates her dramatic talents in a chilling performance of “The Flagmaker, 1775,” in which a price in blood and shattered dreams is paid for each star and stripe that Betsy Ross adds to the first American flag.
From his stirring opening number, “On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship, 1492,” in which he plays a scared, starving ship’s captain losing hope that his crew will ever sight a New World, Linzey Jones gives an absolutely explosive performance. Later, Jones puts lots of pizzazz into his portrayals of an athletically gifted Harlem youth who sees basketball as a ticket out of the deadly dead-end life in the ghetto (“The Steam Train”); a prisoner who has seen all of his lofty youthful dreams crash ignominiously to earth (“King of the World”); and a fearless voyager finally homeward bound (“Flying Home”).
Although she also has a big Broadway voice, Julie Foldesi as Woman 2 performs some nice but comparatively less showy numbers, such as “I’m Not Afraid of Anything” (about a woman fearlessly reaching our for love and life) and “Christmas Lullaby” (about a woman counting her blessings and steeping out in faith).
Colby Foytik as Man 1 also does yeoman’s work. His renditions of “The River Won’t Flow” (about a man endlessly searching for his own personal El Dorado),”She Cries” (about a man whose determination to leave a woman cannot withstand the sight of her tears), and “I’d Give It All For You” (a rousing duet with Julie Foldesi) have plenty of snap, crackle, and pop.
Keyboardists McCrae Hardy and Julie Florin provide exuberant accompaniment, and navigate the difficult and demanding score of Songs for a New World with aplomb, while Carlton Miles (drums), Stephen Coffman (percussion), and Robbie Bass (bass) form a rollicking rhythm section.
Up-and-coming Broadway actor Joe Cassidy makes an impressive professional directorial debut, aided by some snappy dance routines devised by choreographer Matthew-Jason Willis. Cassidy elicits the absolute best that each cast member has to give each lyric and comic or dramatic moment, sets a brisk pace, and superbly orchestrates the action. Except for two easily fixable errors on opening night (June 28th) — i.e., a sail that unexpectedly collapsed at the beginning of Act One and a brief but deafening burst of feedback during the opening number of Act Two — Cassidy & Company delivered a highly commendable performance of a particularly memorable set of songs by Jason Robert Brown — and received a well-deserved standing ovation for their efforts.
Give Songs for a New World a try. You will be glad you did.
Editor’s Note: Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy just posted a brand-new interview with Jason Robert Brown on its web site at http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/jrb.htm [inactive 5/07].
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presents Songs for a New World Wednesday-Saturday, June 28-July 1 and July 5-8, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 2 and 9, at 3 p.m. in the Kennedy Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $25, with senior and group discounts available. Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-6060. Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/songsforanewworld.htm [inactive 5/07]. Songs for a New World: http://www.jasonrobertbrown.com/theatre/songs/. Jason Robert Brown: http://www.jasonrobertbrown.com/.