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  • Finian Hackett

Songs for a New World showed us all what is possible in lockdown!

The past few months have been tough on the theatrical industry, with theatres being closed since March and thousands of unemployed performers, crew and creatives across the country. Covid-19 affected everyone across the arts in some way, shape or form. Although these times have been difficult, theatre has had to adapt for new platforms and this has created some absolutely incredible work; most recently, Songs for a New World!

The Jason Robert Brown song cycle Songs for a New World first premiered Off-Broadway in 1995. Since its original production, the show has become a favourite amongst amateur theatre groups and colleges/unis across the world. It has also had success in professional productions in London and New York. However, this was the first time the show had ever been performed in a virtual format.

This is the second full scale musical produced by Lambert Jackson Productions for virtual purposes. Just last month, they produced the online production of JRB's The Last Five Years which was a huge success (and a fantastic watch!) and the team have also co-produced other lockdown specials such as the Leave a Light On concert series.

This production starred Rachel John (Olivier nominee for Hamilton), Rachel Tucker (Broadway/West End Elphaba, Olivier nominee for Come From Away), Ramin Karimloo (Tony and Olivier nominee), Cedric Neal (The Voice UK Semi-Finalist) and newcomer Shem Omari James. All of these actors gave beautiful performances from beginning to end and managed to captivate the audience at home.

Rachel John and Rachel Tucker take on the roles of Woman 1 and Woman 2 respectively. Both are vocally challenging roles and both performers took them on with fantastic results. Woman 1 takes on some of the more emotional songs from the piece including 'I'm Not Afraid of Anything'. This powerful song about a woman reflecting on those who held her back in her life was performed with such ease and tenderness by Rachel John; her vocals added warmth to the songs throughout the show but particularly here. Woman 2, on the other hand, has the more character driven numbers. One that I found really stood out was 'Surabaya-Santa', a song which comes from a drunk and angry Mrs Claus who rants about how her husband doesn't care about her. This brilliant song was performed perfectly by Rachel Tucker - with comedic value and some impressive notes too!

Cedric Neal (Man 1) and Ramin Karimloo (Man 2) both have vocal talents that many can only dream of. Cedric Neal bought the (virtual) house down with his renditions of Man 1's songs; every number was emotionally driven and were some of the best of the night. Ramin Karimloo had the same impact. His main solo, 'She Cries', was sung with a real understanding of the character's background and emotions.

Newcomer Shem Omari James, a recent graduate of Arts Ed, was a welcome addition to the cast, leading the song 'The Steam Train'. His voice blended perfectly with the other 4 performers and I think he has a very successful career coming his way!

What really made it for me was the editing of the whole piece. The integration of footage and sounds from the news and other mediums was a fantastic choice. Images of the theatres shut down by coronavirus were shared over the opening number's vocals - a sad but important sight. The most poignant moment for me was the inclusion of footage from the Black Lives Matter movements across the world. This issue is still so important and the lyrics from the song 'On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship, 1492' were still so relevant today even 25 years after they were first written.

Songs for a New World has shown that in this new world, creating new things is possible! Though it may be more time consuming and a lot more complicated to rehearse, this new form of theatrical entertainment is groundbreaking; hopefully it will inspire many producers around the world to follow in the footsteps of companies like these who are making quality content for such an accessible price. It is a crazy new world we are living in but we are all in the same boat. Keep supporting theatre. Keep supporting your local arts industries. If we keep supporting, they will be able to create even more inspiring work.

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