Songs For A New World

Date 1st March 2016
Society University of Manchester Musical Theatre Society
Venue Club Academy, SU
Type of Production Revue
Director Kieran Enticknap
Musical Director Giles Deacon

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Author: Kevin Proctor

This is an American song cycle which first opened off Broadway in 1995 to rave reviews making a name for its then unknown composer; Jason Robert Brown who has since penned several musicals though regular opinions are that he’s yet to achieve anything similar to the magic he made when composing this show; ‘Songs For A New World’. Another debate topic amongst Musical Theatre enthusiasts is what genre of show SFANW falls into, personally I’d put it in the revue genre given that each song is stand alone, the narrative has a loose theme which strings the songs together but without a storyline; of course it’s a revue!   

The show begins with the triumphant revelation of a new world just around the corner: hope, the promise of new life, renewal. But every second song is a lament at a life unlived, the realisation that years have passed. Covering an extraordinary range of styles, themes and characters, these self-contained stories are written to be performed by only four but UMMTS have spread the songs across five (you can do that with a revue you see): Ollie Kaiper-Leach, Jack Hawkins (who I seriously question has the time to fit in a course around his UMMTS commitments!), Freya Turton, Hannah Greenwood and Kiera Battersby make up the charming ensemble. 

A perfect one for UMMTS who are very much driven by the strength of a score and clearly excite in a challenging one. This society goes to great lengths to do justice to the music making it evident that what we hear is of the most importance. This show features an incredibly technical piano score with beautiful and intricate close harmony work. Both of these are, thankfully, handled with great aplomb by musical director Giles Deacon. This score includes one of my favourite ensemble pieces which is also in my top five of all-time favourite opening numbers, of course it’s “The New World” which opens this show.

I sensed that we didn’t get the strongest performances on this particular showing, the strain of an intense rehearsal process taking its toll perhaps? Or could it be the time of year with lurgies afflicting us? Whatever the reason, it was a shame that a couple of voices weren’t on top form though you could clearly see that these individuals were capable of handling these songs of epic proportions, it’s just a shame they faced some restrictions. Nonetheless, they soldiered on and ensured they delivered the best they could and treated us to a splendid show all the same.

Jack Hawkins transforms himself into a class act (rather different to ‘Spelling Bee’ the week previous!) showing us his versatility and knack at his craft, a very unassuming and elite performer with a beautifully rich voice, charm and poise. Kiera Battersby delivers two of the biggest show stoppers of the night which were quite wonderful as she teeters on a delicious ledge both musically and physically in the will-she-won’t-she-but-she-probably-won’t suicide song ‘Just One Step’ and makes ‘Surabaya Santa’ the hilarious highlight of the evening.

The majority of the pressure falls on Ollie Kaiper-Leach who gets ample opportunity to show us how far his voice can go, he was clearly nervous – shows such as this really do expose raw ability –  though he certainly stood up to the bar and gave us his best shot.

The staging was minimal with bits of furniture scattered across the stage with various props and costume accessories spread across the space with a semi discreet screen (stage left) for when the cast needed to change.

Director Kieran Enticknap understood the context of the show and honoured the piece to expose it for what it is, ensuring we experienced a worthy rendition of this rarely seen gem. The singer/actors thoughtful way in which each of them perform their short song/story was ideally done.

UMMTS calendar is becoming far from predictable. This society continue to excite and offer our district some quirky and challenging musical theatre. Don’t stop doing what you’re doing!