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Upstairs at the Gatehouse

SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD at Upstairs at the Gatehouse


“The show feels like it’s sailing in unchartered waters, which is a shame as it deserves better.”

Jason Robert Brown’s song cycle Songs For A New World shows the power of music in storytelling. Each of the seemingly unconnected songs, introduce us to a new character telling their micro story about a pivotal moment in each of their lives.

The cast of four open the show with the song, The New World, full of hope and the promise of a new world calling to them. The cycle moves to On The Deck Of A Spanish Sailing Ship 1482, and they sing of adventure, excitement and passion, as they literally sail to the new world. Then quickly the songs start to descend through stories of dashed hopes, lives missed and love lost.

Songs For A New World was Tony Award winning composer Brown’s 1995 musical debut, and his musicality, storytelling and genius for anthemic powerhouse songs are all there for the taking. The prolific contemporary composer and lyricist went on to write the generation defining The Last Five Years and the sublime Parade.

Songs For A New World is not a perfect musical, and the sixteen songs have wide ranging stories, locations and settings as each of the characters go through a life changing experience. It is with the final song, Hear My Song, that this abstract song cycle joins together by telling us to listen to each other’s stories to help you make choices:

“Hear my song – it was made for the times when you don’t know where to go. Listen to the song that I sing. You’ll be fine”.

However, in this production, director Kai Wright, makes the characters all appear slightly self-obsessed. He treats the songs as set pieces and the audience isn’t given the opportunity to feel a sense of journey. The show feels like it’s sailing in unchartered waters, which is a shame as it deserves better.

Eleanore Frances, with the best numbers, stands out as Woman 2. She grabs every moment in her songs, which includes high comedy in Just One Step, as a rich wife who is about to jump off the ledge of her 57th floor apartment to make a point to her cheating husband; to a full out Brecht and Weill torch song parody with Surabaya-Santa, as a Mrs Claus left alone with just the elves; via the stand out Stars and the Moon which is probably the best known song in the show.

The musical postcard drops in on Woman 1, Lizzy Parker, who gives heart to Christmas Lullaby as a young girl alone in the world discovering she is pregnant. Luke Walsh, as Man 1, looks like he is permanently in pain as he goes for the high riffs – which he actually sings well, particularly in Steam Train.

Kudos goes to musical director Liam Holmes at the piano with his glorious fellow musicians (two violins, cello, bass guitar and drums) who were on fire, especially at the end of the show, with no voices over them, they gave it large – a fantastic end to the evening.

SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed on 8th February 2024

by Debbie Rich

Photography by Clarissa Debenham


Previously reviewed at this venue:

YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN | ★★ | December 2023
HOW TO BUILD A BETTER TULIP | ★★ | November 2022
FOREVER PLAID | ★★★★ | June 2021



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