Saturday, October 1, 2016

"Songs for a New World" by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at Bryant-Lake Bowl

"Rare Musicals. Well Done." Minneapolis Musical Theatre can check another well done rare musical off their list with their current production of Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World. The first musical written by JRB, who has since gone on to win two Tony Awards for best score (Parade in 1999 and The Bridges of Madison County in 2014, through which I recently fell in love with his music), SFANW is less a musical than a song cycle. There's no plot or throughline, just four actor/singers performing seemingly disconnected songs, but all centered around the theme of that one defining moment in life. In a way, it's a dozen musicals in one; each song is like a mini-musical unto itself, telling a complete story and defining character(s). It's a fantastic collection of songs, some funny, some sad, some poignant, some all of the above. MMT does a great job bringing these songs to life with just four chairs and a keyboard (and percussion) on a bare stage at Bryant Lake Bowl.

In just about eighty minutes, singer/actors Brandon Jackson, Christian Unser (MMT's Artistic Director), Jessica Holtan, and Rebecca Gebhart take us through the full gamut of emotions. Jessica plays up the humor of a woman literally on the edge in "Just One Step," and figuratively on the edge as Mrs. Claus dumps her husband in "Surabaya Santa." Rebecca sounds lovely singing the poignant songs "I'm Not Afraid of Anything" and "Christmas Lullaby." Christian tells a great story in "She Cries" and "The World Was Dancing." And last but not least, Brandon brings the house down with "Flying Home."

The simple staging suits the show, with no elaborate set pieces or extra stuff to distract from the songs, stories, and characters. But they don't just stand on stage and sing, they make good use of the space at BLB, occasionally walking through the audience on entrances or exits. Music director and accompanist Tony Sofie (with Paul David Stanko on percussion) keeps this varied pop/gospel/jazz score moving.

Musical theater nerds - this is a rare chance to see popular and acclaimed composer Jason Robert Brown's earliest work performed live, don't miss it! Continuing through October 8 at Bryant Lake Bowl in Uptown.