"Songs for a New World" illustrates the lives of several characters as they deal with life issues, including marriage, pregnancy and lost love. In addition, the play encompasses a wide array of topics, ranging from motherhood to the struggles of Santa’s wife.
Written by Jason Robert Brown and directed by Jonel Langenfeld-Rial and Todd Graber, "Songs for a New World" features duets, solos and tons of ensemble numbers. The cast did an outstanding job performing the songs. All of their voices projected through the theater as each actor stepped into the spotlight with ease, as they often looked up to belt their high note. Each song portrayed the struggle the character went through in his or her life.
Though the musical numbers were impressive, there was nothing but musical numbers. The play lacked dialogue. It felt as if the play was merely a playback of the soundtrack, missing any plot that would have tied each song together. The songs don’t relate to each other, though some characters’ struggles are similar, such as the unhappy housewives and people looking to find meaning in their lives. There was no clear message as to who each character was. It was also unclear if an actor was reprising his or her role in a previous scene when they took the stage again. It was basically up to the audience to decide whether a different character sings every song, or each actor plays one character throughout the entire play.
There were also many songs that felt sharply like, "High School Musical." Many of the duets seemed as if they were promotional singles for a fourth installment of the blockbuster hit. It was also difficult to decipher the differences between each duet. Though the vocals were fine, it felt as if Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens were waiting in the wings to sing the next song.
The consistent vocals are commendable when paired with the choreography, but the execution leaves the audience wanting less and yet more at the same time. The movement needed more natural rhythm, but the cast needed less movement, evidenced by their unsuccessful jives. The choreography felt unsynchronized and cheesy at times. There were moments when some characters seemed to be dancing different steps than the rest of the ensemble. The jolly skips and energetic shouts and cheers by the background ensemble during some numbers were so "High School Musical" it felt like a parody of the film rather than a coincidental similarity. A simple two-step alongside "ooohs and ahhhs" would have sufficed.
Just when the memory of faintly charged "High School Musical" songs seemed to fade into a distance, the song "The Steam Train" had the entire ensemble geared out in basketball jerseys with basketballs in tow. Another set of choreography by the ensemble cast with the aid of basketballs was too much to handle.
Though "The Steam Train" had its problems, the song’s soloist, Jamine Coley, shined on stage. His basketball choreography with Dylan Duffy was intricate and evidently well rehearsed. Coley’s character’s pain leaked into the audience every time he shouted, "You don’t know me…. but you will" throughout the performance. It would have helped the scene though if the other characters did not have basketballs and jerseys on, but just swayed in the back.
Jessica Quindlen excelled in "Stars and The Moon," portraying a nostalgic golddigger regretfully looking back at her life and the decisions she made. As she left the stage, there was a moment where the audience no longer saw the actress, but the character who they felt empathy for.
Olivia Zeis brought comical relief in "Surabaya Santa," the tale of an unhappy Mrs. Claus complaining about her marriage to St. Nicholas. The red and green backdrop effectively enhanced the Christmas-themed performance, while her fake German accent in parts of the song accentuated the humor of the piece. Zeis left the audience wanting more, not only in regards to that actress, but more songs of that nature, songs that weren’t either a slow ballad or a cheesy up-tempo piece.
Overall, "Songs for a New World" was a wonderful play based on the vocal abilities of the actors, but many other elements to successful stage performance remained absent, such as smooth transitions, choreography and an overall plot.
"Songs for a New World" will be on Feb. 26 and 27 and March 5 and 6 at 8 p.m. in Waterman Theatre in Tyler Hall. There is also a 2 p.m. matinee on March 7. Tickets cost $7 for Oswego State students.