“Songs for a New World” was without question one of the most unique and abstract theatre shows I’ve ever attended. Not as comprehensive as a musical, though not as clean cut as your standard song cycle, “Songs” was a show that was incredibly demanding on both its cast and creative team, requiring them to create a coherent experience and effectively translate an extensive number of stories and characters in a limited amount of time, with a total lack of dialogue. In the program, Director Luke Joslin talked of the difficulties associated with infusing the song cycle with a certain ‘theatricality’, which is no easy task. It is a challenge however that Joslin met with great effect, having linked these different characters not by narrative but by tone and style. Married with an incredibly effective set and lighting design that aided audiences in establishing themselves in the narrative, Joslin and Blue Saint have staged a show with more significance and meaning than most productions found even in Melbourne’s biggest theatres.
The talent of the four individuals that guided the audience’s journey through “Songs for the New World” was beyond compare. Teagan Woulters acted almost as an anchor for the show, both by opening it and driving home a number of emotional ballads throughout the duration to ground the atmosphere following some of the more exotic numbers. Linden Furnell impressed as well, injecting the show with a welcome amount of charisma and charm at various moments throughout the night. Similarly, John O’Hara is responsible for a number of drastic tonal changes, meeting each song with an incredible level of energy and investment. Finally, a great amount of praise to Natalie O’Donnell, who totally nails every role thrown her way. Be it requiring exceptional comic timing, animated expressions or a gentle tone: O’Donnell owns perhaps the most versatile performance of the night.
At the forefront of the show’s success is a stunning score by Jason Robert Brown. Despite the fact that there are so many aspects of this production that are equally impressive, regardless of how talented the performers are and how polished the show is technically – there simply wouldn’t be enough to capture the audience without the flow and cohesiveness of Brown’s work. Each song conveys a completely individual story, however as a whole are all united by a consistency in quality and emotional significance. Musical Director Geoffrey Castles has done Brown’s work an incredible justice, not struggling with an intimate crew of 2-3 musicians to completely fill the space. From the intimacy of songs like “I’m Not Afraid of Anything”, the humour of “Surabaya Santa” and the pure energy of “The Steam Train” – every song is astoundingly memorable.
“Songs for a New World” was unlike anything I’d ever experienced, and this was not just due to the abnormal format. Everything about the performance was meticulously choreographed and stylized in a way that ensured the audience was never at a loss despite the lack of dialogue. I cannot, in good faith, walk away from a production that was so expertly crafted that it exceled in almost every aspect, and not reward it with full marks. With “Songs”, Blue Saint have exhibited a level of boldness and ability that ensures it continues to stand out against the ever-growing number of Theatre Companies braving the Melbourne scene.
“Songs for a New World” closes in Melbourne tonight. For more information about the show or to inquire about future Blue Saint Productions; you can visit their website here: http://www.bluesaint.com.au