Songs For A New World, A Performance to Benefit SpeakEasy Stage
Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company
Music & lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Paul Daigneault
Music directed by Jose Delgado
Cast includes Rashed Alnuaimi, Laura Marie Duncan, Jennifer Ellis, Dwayne P. Mitchell, Davron Monroe, Mikayla Myers, Rebekah Robles, Alexander Tan, and Victor Carrillo Tracey
The program is HERE.
Review by Kitty Drexel
STREAMING — SpeakEasy stage had two COVID compliance officers, and a testing coordinator. OccMed provided health services to the Song for A New World Team and Viracor Eurofins Clinical Diagnostics was their COVID testing provider. A disclaimer that COVID safety protocols were followed during rehearsals and recording of this fundraiser.
Behind-the-scenes photos from the recording show us how gratefully careful the team was to be working together. Wee see that the whole tech shebang was moved into a tight backstage with the cast downstage and the band upstage. Tech booths don’t get much air or light by design. Human bodies aren’t sterile. The band was masked. The cast members removed their masks at their mics to perform and put them back on after. Brava to SpeakEasy Stage for taking the utmost care for its community!
SpeakEasy’s production of Songs for A New World is a fundraiser. Please donate. Do it often and in large quantitiesl. It is by donating now when we aren’t able to gather that companies will continue to exist when we can. President Biden’s 2022 fiscal budget claims funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Our local theatre companies cannot wait that long.
Investing in SpeakEasy’s production is a sound investment for arts lovers. You don’t have to like Jason Robert Brown (he does have a particular sound; it sounds like the ‘90s) to appreciate SpeakEasy’s most recent production. If you enjoy the company’s work, or the work of its new or returning artists, that is reason enough.
“Stars and the Moon” (Laura Marie Duncan) is a piece of misogynistic tripe that smacks of a complete misunderstanding of what male qualities are actually attractive to heterosexual women. “She Cries” (Rashed Al Nuaimi) accomplishes the same trick and makes an insensitive male character look even more dull-headed. Performers Duncan and Nuaimi sing such thoughtful, thoroughly believable characters that I almost wish I felt differently. They make me wish I didn’t detest these songs.
JRB is better when he gives a character something external to care about. “I’m Not Afraid” (deftly sung by Rebekah Rae Robles) and “King of the World” (Davron Monroe) are examples of this. Robles gets to be brave and vulnerable, and as lonely as a person utterly alone in a crowded room. Monroe gets to tower, to dream and to see beyond the insecurities of others.
This streamed production is well but simply shot. We watch the actors work with each other, and we see their palpable joy to work with others again. It’s like receiving communion of spirit.
I mention four songs here but the whole cast performs well. It is good to see Rashed Alnuaimi, Laura Marie Duncan, Jennifer Ellis, Dwayne P. Mitchell, Davron Monroe, Mikayla Myers, Rebekah Robles, Alexander Tan, and Victor Carrillo Tracey performing together.
Sometimes the cast is just under their note. This is understandable. Artists have been rehearsing without each other for an age, and JRB’s music is demanding: it requires a broad range in both head and mixed/belt voices; there are leaps in the vocal line that require stamina, and the rhythms can be unnecessarily complicated because they replicate patterns of one person’s speech. Theatre is so important, so necessary that it’s worth doing imperfectly.
It’s been a pandemic. It takes an entire team to make a production run smoothly. There are so many more artists working to perfect a number than just the actors and band musicians on stage. Discrepancies in the art represent a person missing from the process. Not all of them could return to work on this production. We’re supposed to be together, breathing and matching pitch in each other’s personal space. Learning music alone and then practicing social distancing from the piano and your fellow performers is antithetical to the rehearsal process.
Songs for A New World is no longer a modern musical. It’s now a period piece. Vintage-light. But, this recording brought me back to seventeen months ago when humans could experience theatre fellowship with like-minded humans while simultaneously foretelling of a time when we will do it again. That is worth the price of admission and much more.