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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Laberge

Songs for a New World is an anthem for tomorrow

"It's about one moment,

That moment you think you know where you stand.

And in that one moment,

The things that you're sure of slip from your hand"

Across the world, the last year or so has been filled with moments like these - moments of decision, reflection, and confusion as we each move towards what is right individually and what is necessary for the whole. New journeys can be exciting, humorous, and downright painful. Songs for a New World, directed by Mark E. Schuster and music directed by Julie Johnson, captures the nuances of stepping into the unknown, all to Jason Robert Brown's luxurious contemporary orchestrations.

All photos by Jennifer Mazza. The cast of Songs for a New World.

Rather than following a concrete storyline or set characters, Songs for a New World is presented as a song cycle. This means that the show is a series of individual stories, captured in song, and tied together by one uniting theme. Each character in the performance is presented at a moment of having to make a choice, one which will change their lives. Don't let the concept fool you, though - despite tackling heavy issues, Brown's characters teeter back and forth between drama and comedy, touring audiences through the full emotional gambit.

Ernesto Bell and Tomás Domingues.

The male roles throughout the production are presented by Ernest Bell and Tomás Dominguez. Bell's tone fills in complex harmonies with an easy listening tenor tone. It is in climactic moments, however, that he stands out. He shifts into a massive falsetto range, in which he has a unique, muted trumpet-like quality. The show inspires early on with his lead in "On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship".

Tomás Domingues.

For long time fans of Jason Robert Brown's music, Domingues fulfills a familiar niche. His classical baritone with a blunt, musical theatre-y twist is reminiscent of many of Brown's other leading men - Jamie in The Last Five Years, Leo Frank in Parade, and so on. He softens into a tender arc in "The World Was Dancing".

Eliza Lambert.

Eliza Lambert and Raven Monique Dockery tackle the female roles in the show. Despite such different styles, their voices blend in beautiful contrast. Lambert brings an earnest kindness to each of her roles, paired well with a gentle soprano voice. She shines in the often covered song "Christmas Lullaby".

Raven Monique Dockery.

Dockery, then, sprinkles stellar comedic timing throughout the show on top of a clear tone and massive range. In addition, Dockery uses numerous dialects throughout the show, all of which add to the characters without distracting from the stories. In a shift from her lighter fare, she brings the room to tears in her performance of "The Flagmaker".

The Adequate Band, music directed by Julie Johnson (top).

It would be remiss to ignore the significant contributions to the quality of the performance made by the show's orchestration, provided by The Adequate Band. This show is no outlier to Brown's difficult scores, and these musicians more than meet the requirements. The sound is full and intricate, meeting the performers in their vulnerability and supporting them in their strength.

The cast of Songs for a New World.

Following the last summer's events and the resulting demands for diversity in theatre, Waukesha Civic Theatre is putting the proof in the pudding in this performance. Prior to 2020, the small downtown company consistently put on predominantly white productions. This show features a cast of diverse races, genders, and body types, and moreover, the show thrives. One can hope that this is the start of a new era for this venue.

Schuster is no stranger to Waukesha Civic Theatre and has quite the reputation for leading some of their largest and most successful productions. Here, yet again, he ushers in an exquisite piece of theatre. This one, though, stands out from his previous work. Paired with the musicianship of the band and mastery of the performers, Songs for a New World is one of the best things to happen on the Civic stage in a long while. It is an example of the very story it tells: big stories live in all communities.

Songs for a New World runs in person and streams digitally through May 16th.

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