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Songs for a New World review (Upstairs at the Gatehouse)

The cast of Songs for a New World at Upstairs at the Gatehouse
The cast of Songs for a New World at Upstairs at the Gatehouse. Credit: Clarissa Debenham

The talented cast and musicians of Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World at Upstairs at the Gatehouse offer up a night of musical theatre heaven.

First premiering back in 1995, Songs for a New World is a song cycle comprised of stand-alone pieces woven together by the underlying theme of change and choice.

It’s a brave set of actors and musicians who take on Jason Robert Brown’s work, with the score of Songs for a New World packed full of intricate compositions and soaring melodies that range in style from pop to gospel, jazz to classical.

The show, offering little in the way of plot, relies heavily on the talents of its company. Fortunately, this production has found an incredibly skilful cast and accompanying creatives that have put together a masterclass in acting through song.

The cast of Songs for a New World at Upstairs at the Gatehouse
The cast of Songs for a New World at Upstairs at the Gatehouse Credit: Clarissa Debenham

Yes, at times there’s a bit too much looking intently into the distance and some over the top arm flailing, but what do you expect with songs that are the epitome of millennial contemporary musical theatre.

Lizzy Parker’s voice hits all the high notes on I’m Not Afraid of Anything and sparkles on Christmas Lullaby – possibly two of my favourite songs penned by Brown.

Christopher Cameron offers up a heart-felt performance in She Cries and launches us into the second act with The World Was Dancing, offering a charisma-packed performance that can’t help but put a smile on your face.

Eleanore Frances is particularly lovely in the now cabaret standard Stars and The Moon, and gets the biggest laughs of the night with a hilarious scornful number told from the perspective of Mrs. Claus.

Last but by no means least is Luke Walsh who leads the fast-paced act one closer and takes on the demanding King of the World in the second act with ease and soaring vocals.

The cast of Songs for a New World at Upstairs at the Gatehouse
The cast of Songs for a New World at Upstairs at the Gatehouse. Credit: Clarissa Debenham

The band, led by pianist and musical director Liam Holmes, need serious respect. They are on fire throughout the sung-through piece, making Brown’s complex and challenging orchestrations look trivial (which they absolutely aren’t).

The production, led by director Kai Wright, opts for subtlety over extravagance. Sophie Goodman’s design is simple but charming, while the sound design by Glenn Oxenbury and lighting design by Jason Fenn perfectly do exactly what they need to do – let the music and lyrics shine.

While abstract song cycles like this may not be to everyone’s taste, fans—especially those of Brown’s work—will not want to miss this standout production.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Songs for a New World runs to 3 March at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London. For more information and tickets, visit upstairsatthegatehouse.ticketsolve.com

About the author: Josh Darvill

Josh is Stageberry's editor with over five years of experience writing about theatre in the West End and across the UK. Prior to following his passion for musicals, he worked for more than a decade as a TV journalist.