It is unlikely when Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World first opened off-Broadway in 1995, that he knew that a song cycle about people on the precipice of a pivotal moment in their lives would feel even more timely 25 years later. But post-pandemic, it translates surprisingly well, as is evident in the North Carolina Theatre Production.
Perhaps one reason Songs for a New World resonates here is because North Carolina Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director Eric Woodall has a knack for conceptualizing even the most archaic of shows through a contemporary lens. Think about Woodall’s direction of Gypsy (2017), for example, or his stunning execution of West Side Story (2019).
In those previous productions, the thematic line between then and now didn’t feel quite as conspicuous as this Songs for a New World does, but then again, this show feels far more personal. In fact, this production feels more like Woodall’s love letter to the theater community.
Like any good billet-doux, this one leans into its sentimentality, at times a bit too much. Fortunately, a stellar cast, under the watchful eye of Music Director Edward G. Robinson, stays laser focused on Brown’s lyricism, which tempers some of the production’s mawkishness and keeps it grounded and heartfelt. Since this is more of a concert than a musical with a traditional through line, each of the four actors has multiple spotlight moments, though the character pieces performed by Kyle Taylor Parker and Christine Sherrill are some of the most memorable and affecting.
This Songs for a New World is a far-reaching acknowledgement of what we, as a country, have experienced since the pandemic shut everything down and George Floyd was murdered. Moreover, its undercurrent of hope and optimism may be a panacea for these trying times.
Songs for a New World runs through Sunday at The Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. For more information visit https://nctheatre.com/.