MU Theatre’s ‘Songs For a New World’ uses power of song

MU Theater’s production of “Songs For a New World” explores how one moment can change the future through a collection of moving songs.

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I attended MU Theatre’s production of “Songs For a New World,” a musical written and composed by Jason Robert Brown, directed by MU professor Dr. Joy Powell On Oct. 13. This was the third night of the show’s run at Studio 4 in the McKee Gymnasium.

“Songs For a New World” is a compilation of songs that examine life, love and loss within a small group of friends and family. The musical takes place in the present day, and the cast is made up of four men and four women. Although the show does not have a steady plot, the songs really do tell a story.

The story is loosely-knit, but it essentially follows eight people who have varying relationships with one another, but always end up coming together. The characters are fairly simple and there are no main stars of the show, but each of the characters has a unique story to tell that is clearly illustrated throughout their parts of the show.

The cast was excellent, both in terms of acting and singing ability. MU technically does not have a musical theater program, but these cast members still showcased excellent vocal ability. The actors used their vocal talents to express their stories and personalities with strength and emotion.

Songs like “Just One Step” and “Christmas Lullaby,” sung by Woman 2 (Sabrina Salerno) and Woman 1 (Kasey Lynch), illustrated the depth of their characters’ personal lives and gave audience a look into their inner emotions and personal stories. Each of these women gave standout performances and were excellent at telling their characters’ stories.

“The Steam Train” and “Flying Home” were both sung by Man 1 (Murphy Ward) and company and both songs demonstrated the chemistry between the characters and how all of them could come together as a group. “The Steam Train” had an upbeat tone, whereas “Flying Home” was more somber, so these two songs reflect how all of the characters support one another in both the good and bad times. Ward gave an excellent performance throughout the entirety of the show and clearly has great acting abilities.

However, while the singing was great, where the cast members really excelled was through their emotion and ability to act the part of their characters. The actors seemed to really understand the characters they were playing, which helped to tell their individual stories.

The connection between the characters was also a very strong part of the performance. The relationships between characters seemed genuine, in both the good and bad times shown throughout the performance. The way the characters looked and interacted with one another made their bonds seem real. I have no idea as to the actors’ actual relationships with each other, but from the way they portrayed their characters I would be surprised if they were not a pretty close group.

Personally, I like when a musical has a compelling plot and some conflict to watch the characters overcome. “Songs For a New World” lacked a strong plot and was more like a concert that told stories. The show had a minimalistic set and modern-day clothing for costumes, but this allowed the vocal performances to shine even brighter.

“Songs For a New World” was a simple show that put the music first with minimal distraction to the stories the songs aimed to tell. The show illustrated the importance of friends, family and the connections we have with those who surround us. Despite the lack of plot or a strong storyline, I found the musical to be an overall enjoyable experience.

Edited by Siena DeBolt | sdebolt@themaneater.com

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