Sunday, 2 August 2015

'Songs For A New World' at St James's Theatre

Last week we went to see 'Songs for a New World' at St James's Theatre at Victoria. It's not a show I know anything about but I wanted to see Cynthia Erivo and Jenna Russell. I've actually seen all four performers in different things over the last few years: Cynthia in 'The Color Purple' at the Choccy Factory (twice) and 'Henry IV' at the Donmar; Jenna in 'Sunday in the Park With George' on Broadway, 'Into The Woods' at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, 'Merrily We Roll Along' at the Choccy Factory and in 'Di & Viv & Rose' at the Vaudeville; Damian Humbly in 'Merrily We Roll Along' and 'Little Shop of Horrors' (Choccy) and 'Putting It Together' at St James's; and Dean John-Wilson in 'Here Lies Love' at the National Theatre earlier this year.

 'Songs' is a revue show, a sequemce of songs in which each lead takes the lead or combines into duets or everyone taking lines or verses in collaborative songs. There's nothing holding it together really, other than the set that seems to be a loft apartment in Manhattan with furniture and props to move around that looks like all of them lived there at some unspecified time, two older charactersa and two younger, all with hopes, dreams and disappointments. 

 It opens with Cynthia's character coming on stage to start singing and moving the furniture around, singing of a new world, a new start and she's just moving into the apartment full of hope. But even she remembers past sadnesses as she unpacks and arranges the furniture before the other characters appear, one by one, joining in and building the song. I don't know why but this grabbed me and kept me centred on the characters and their diverse pasts and presents. Maybe it's something to do with moving to another city to start life afresh? I don't know but it struck a chord.

I also liked Jenna as the more mature woman with some of the more funny and the more tender songs. Whether she's threatening to jump off the Park Lane balcony of the apartment she shares with Murray and her family or whether she's Mrs Santa Claus she always gives good value. And she also gets some of the sadder songs, looking back to a recent happier past. I particularly liked her song about being young and wanting stuff rather than romance and then, growing older, realising she'll never have the Moon. That was very touching.

Very early on in the show I realised that Cyntia is due to be a very big star indeed. I was terribly impressed with her performance in 'The Color Purple' and she's due to reprise that performance on Broadway in the Autumn. She has a lovely voice, powerful and tender by turns, very versatile and lovely to hear. I look forward to seeing her as often as possible on the West End stage - if she pulls it off on Broadway (which I'm sure she will) then I suspect we'll lose her. C'mon West End, come up with good roles for her.

PS: I've downloaded the few songs by Cynthia that are available on iTunes so c'mon Cynthia, we need an album. Soon please! 

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