Musical Theatre Letter to the Editor
On CVNC's 5/15/10 Review of Songs for a New World, at Raleigh Little Theatre
May 20, 2010 - Raleigh, NC:
To the Editor:
Thank you for taking the time to review our outdoor production, "Songs for a New World." I am thankful for the kind, encouraging words expressed regarding the cast of performers. However, I would like to note that, while this is a musical theater production, it is primarily a song cycle. Contrary to traditional musicals with distinct characters and plot lines, "Songs for a New World" is a much more loosely drawn narrative connecting iconic characters and themes. Because of its vocal-centric nature (there are no spoken scenes in the show, save the Steam Train monologues), the general idea is that the vocals should be accentuated. Excessive choreography tends to take away from the focus in a show like this, which of course is the words.
Also, the reviewer mentioned several times that the "line-up" of the show didn't meet expectations, and similar sentiments. His final paragraph read:
"Songs for a New World may be just that, a series of tunes that reflect the current situation of the world. The works are entertaining, but as a show the lineup just doesn’t fall together. The work lacks continuity and any real sense of direction. The musicians are excellent, but the show doesn’t allow them to shine enough, either individually or collectively. In its present form, Songs for a New World is in need of a life preserver."
While I agree that the show is a series of tunes, that is essentially what a song cycle is — a staged concert if you will. That is how this show was designed. I also agree that, at first, certain parts of the show seem to lack definite direction (i.e. "On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship 1492" / "Just One Step"). There are several unique juxtapositions that don't seem to fit.
However, I would like to make it clear that this is the nature of the show — the actual show, and not the performance, bears this characteristic. You can't exactly change the line-up of the tunes any more than you could change up the line-up of scenes in an Ibsen play. It's akin to seeing a Wagnerian opera, stating that the singers performed smashingly well, but were unintelligible because it was all in German. You can't critique a performance of an opera for being too German. If that is how a show was originally conceived, it would be foolish to reorder the work because it doesn't fit into a conventional format.
Once again, I want to emphasize that I am thankful that there are people in this artistic community who are willing to provide honest critiques of artistic and dramatic works in the area. However, I implore that when crafting a critique, the critic make a distinct effort to evaluate the highlights/lowlights of the actual performance, rather than lumping in critical comments regarding characteristics of the show material (i.e. plot/structure, content, etc). As much as I would like to, I can't exactly rewrite the second act because most of the songs are "downers."
Once again, however, thank you for checking out our show! I appreciate the critique, and I sincerely hope that our production offered a legitimate and honest representation of Jason Robert Brown's work.
Note: The author is musical director of the RLT's production of Songs for a New World.