Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 4, 2022

REVIEW: Berkshire Theatre Group, "Songs for a New World"

Unicorn Theatre, Stockbridge, MA
through August 20, 2022
by Michael J. Moran

Photo by Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware
In notes for the 1996 original Off-Broadway cast recording of his musical theater revue “Songs for a New World,” composer-lyricist Jason Robert Brown described its theme as follows: “It’s about one moment. It’s about hitting the wall and having to make a choice, or take a stand, or turn around and go back.” In BTG’s powerful new production, director Gerry McIntyre helped his talented cast of four diverse singer-actors find these moments in the chaotic “new world” of 2022. 

The 16 numbers in Brown’s gripping score, presented without pause or intermission, are separate scenes with wildly varying scenarios and different individual or multiple performers. After the opening “The New World” introduced the full company, Michael Wordly, in “On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship, 1492,” depicted the captain praying for the safety of all aboard with aching fervor. He later brought youthful swagger to an aspiring basketball star in “The Steam Train” (“You don’t know me, but you will,”) and almost unbearable intensity to a soldier killed in battle in “Flying Home.” 
Alexandria J. Henderson infused a young woman finding her way in “I’m Not Afraid” with the fierce passion of singer-activist of the 1960's Nina Simone and a pregnant mother in “Christmas Lullaby” with the tender glow of Roberta Flack, comparing herself to the Virgin Mary. Nathe Rowbotham sang both a spouse disappointed by material wealth (“I’ll never have the moon.”) in perhaps the show’s best-known number, “Stars and the Moon,” and one of two lovers reuniting after a time apart in “I’d Give It All for You” with an endearing mix of humor and vulnerability. 

Mia Munn was a hoot as a neglected wife seeking her husband’s attention by threatening to jump from their 57th-floor apartment in “Just One Step” and as a distraught Mrs. Claus excoriating her roving husband in the hilarious Kurt Weill parody “Surabaya-Santa.” Musical director/pianist Dante Harrell had his own singing star turn in a thrilling “King of the World.”  

Brilliant accompaniment by Harrell, cellist Miriam Bolkosky, and drummer Diego Mongue, kaleidoscopic video projections by Shawn Edward Boyle against Randall Parsons’ effectively minimal set, and McIntyre’s playful choreography bring further distinction to this entertaining and thought-provoking revue.