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Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s Songs for a New World

Decisions — and life — put to music

 

photo courtesy of Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre/ Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre delivers a production full of first-rate choices.

     Jason Robert Brown is a Tony Award-winning composer, lyricist and playwright best known for his work on Parade, The Bridges of Madison County, and The Last Five Years. Prior to those successes, Brown in 1995 debuted the self-penned Songs for a New World, a musical revue now playing at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre through July 20.

     “This stream of songs weaves together stories of passion and struggle that speak to the moment of choice — something we all experience in our lives,” writes director Jason Harding Beall in the playbill.

     Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s production is full of first-rate choices, including the very decision to do the show. It’s not well known, so that’s always a risk. But the risk pays off because of just about every other choice made in producing this show. From the elegance and simplicity of the sailing-motif set and complementary costumes, to the professional onstage band, to the selection of six excellent singers whose vocal chops are equaled only by their ability to bring the depth of each song’s meaning to the surface, Songs for a New World is a musical and emotional treat. 

     Imagine going to a local club to hear a fine jazz/pop quintet. That’s what you get with Emily Sergo, who conducts and plays keyboard; Ken Kimble, also on keyboard; Reid Bowman on electric bass; Kevin Brady on drums and Jeremy Ulrich on percussion. Now imagine they’re joined by six sensational singers: Zach Husak, David Merrill, Matty Montes, Cara Marie Pellegrino, Thea Thompson and Renae Szymczak. Now imagine getting all that for the cost of a couple of beers at that club.

     That’s what Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre delivers.

    The show starts with the company singing The New World, preparing us for the evening’s theme of how stability can be upended in a moment. It’s followed by Montes putting his heart and soul into On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship 1492, as the captain praying for his men’s safe arrival. We then move to the 57th floor of a New York apartment and a wife’s desperate attempt to get her husband’s attention as Pellegrino sings Just One Step. It’s funny and horrifying, and Pellegrino’s rapid-fire delivery is perfectly paralleled by bassist Bowman’s terrific double-time walking bass line.

     Szymczak sings perhaps Brown’s best-known song, Stars and the Moon, emotionally investing herself and the audience in a woman’s regret at turning away two loving but poor suitors in favor of a man whose wealth leaves her unfulfilled.

     David Merrill gives us a touch of humor in She Cries, as a man describes the difficulty of leaving the one he loves when in fact he is powerless to leave because of her love. Thompson’s Christmas Lullaby is beautiful and emotional, with the woman she is portraying learning she is pregnant and singing “I will be like Mother Mary, with a blessing in my soul.” And Husak gives us the fire of a man wrongly imprisoned and demanding to return to his role as a leader in King of the World.

     These are just a sample of the 19 songs you’ll hear, each connected to the others in sometimes direct, sometimes subtle ways. Each singer stands out in solo, and all combine to become a small chorale whose emotional whole is even greater than the sum of its parts. So, while Songs for a New World is not a musical with a plot, it is music with meaning. It is brought to us with excellence and passion by vocalists and musicians who clearly care about each and every one of the stories they are telling.

 

About one hour and 45 minutes with one intermission. ThFSaSu 8:30pm, thru July 20, Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, $25, rsvp: www.summergarden.com