In blasting Monumental Theatre style, the young troupe has taken on Songs for A New World by Jason Robert Brown with ferocious energy and verve. They are incredible.
A young woman walks down an aisle and enters a room where three others are gathered in a circle, in a small support group where they share their stories. A wall hanging says “Each Day You Have a Choice to Be.” No one is identified by name, and instead the musical numbers and interludes provide all the background you need to understand their stories.
The scenes are so dynamic that for once I was thankful that the show was streamed so I could pause periodically and take a breath, because it is literally breathtaking. The first full number, “A New World,” presents the theme and showcases everyone. The voices simply soar. Elvie Ellis as Man 3 adds an interlude, “Stop, Take a Look,” that veers into a gospel-infused rhythm that was so endearing and heartfelt I had to stop myself from weeping out loud. “Wait—this is just the beginning, girl,” I had to admonish myself. “Hold it together—there’s a whole show yet to go!” Songs for a New World is evidence that no matter what conditions are thrown their way, the dang show will go on.
These top-tier performers have been seen in numerous productions around town and together make fabulously good music. Kylie Clare Smith’s character is cautious when she first enters the room and tells her story with a vocal range that starts quietly then crescendos to explosive expressions. Her precious “I’m Not Afraid of Anything” and “Mother Mary” ballads are gorgeous and brave.
Ellis brings down the house with everything he touches from the opening montage to his winningly good “You Don’t Know Me, But You Will,” where he’s decked out to run the race of his life with athleticism and grace to the hilt. Ryan Burke’s character is the guilt-ridden husband and dad who walked out on his family and misses his daughter with aching tenderness. He relays his angst in small touching movements—when he quickly touches his ring finger, you can sense the phantom wedding band.
Sarah Anne Sillers has the most distinctive character as Woman 2, and she attacks her scenes and belts out her songs with a fearlessness that’s set for Broadway as soon as it opens up. Her theatrical flair shines through as the neglected wife of a high earner in “Just One Step” and a hilarious raucous number where she berates St. Nick himself for neglecting her as the Missus.
The video stream is lusciously designed with scenes filmed in all kinds of places with exquisite touches that leave you wanting more, more! The characters will start out in their own spots, and just when you’re settled in the meeting room, they’re dancing in an open field, or suited up to run track, or even on a pier on a waterfront. Camera shots come from everywhere, even for a split second from inside a well-stocked and lit refrigerator!
And then there’s the music. Jason Robert Brown’s bouncy melodies and lyrics are captivating and go straight to the heart and soul. The segments are piercingly beautiful, dynamic, and powerful all at once—he does it all. The dream team of Director Megan Bunn, Music Director Marika Countouris, and Choreographer David Singleton capture the messages in all the songs and weave them into an incredible journey sometimes interior and other times outwardly exuberant. The show features the largest orchestra of any Monumental project so far; with strings and funky percussion, they absolutely rock. It’s an amazing feat that must be seen to believed.
“Songs for a New World is about how growth is constant, but not always linear—that’s the messiness of being human,” wrote Director Bunn in the program. “After the past year of isolation, reflection, and reckoning, the potential for compassion and community present in these characters’ stories resonates with us now more than ever.”
For those who have heard about Monumental Theatre and wondered why they’ve been winning such praise, accolades, and awards over their relatively young years, here’s a chance to experience them for yourself. Songs for a New World is not to be missed.
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Cast: Kylie Clare Smith (Woman 1), Elvie Ellis (Man 1), Sarah Anne Sillers (Woman 2), Ryan Burke (Man 2)
Director: Megan Bunn
Music Director: Marika Countouris
Choreographer: David Singleton
Costumes: Jeannette Christensen
Production Stage Manager: Thomas Nagata
Recording Engineer: Draper Carter
Audio Engineer and Sound Design: Alec Green
Videographer, Director of Photography and Editor of Hand Me Down Films: Zack Gross
Nine-piece orchestra, led by Countouris (Piano): String section including Jeff Thurston (Violin), Sonia Garcia-Lee (Violin), Andrew Weaver (Viola), and Aron Rider (Cello). Rhythm section consisting of Matt Horanzy (Guitar), Jonas Creason (Bass), Sam Carolla (Drums), and Marty Risemberg (Percussion).