"Songs for a New World" is like a butterfly - a beautiful creature stopping for a moment to be admired, then flitting off again.
Lake Country Playhouse is presenting this elusive show, what has been called an "abstract musical," for its summer offering.
It is a series of songs written by Jason Robert Brown for various events and venues. In each tune, Brown creates one character or more and a story emerges only to flutter away leaving the audience to wonder what's next. The show calls for only four characters, but this version uses 10, which makes it a little harder to see unifying elements in the performers
Theatergoers looking for a story to follow will find none. But what they will find is an incredibly talented group of young people singing their hearts out. Still, it's hard to listen to a dramatic piece presented with such passion about hope and dreams, love and loathing, fear and security, arrogance and humility, and then just wipe the slate clean for the next number with a brand new story. Those who do will be rewarded with an enjoyable musical experience that spans all sorts of genres - rock, pop, gospel, jazz, classical and tunes that just sound like something we've heard in other musicals, all loosely connected by a theme of persons on the verge of a great change or revelation.
In her director's notes, Catherine Pfeifer explains, "Please don't worry too much about the meaning of this musical. Be satisfied knowing that each song, each scene, explores fear of the unknown and taking chances in spite of that fear."
The "Opening Sequence: The New World" showcased Ben Tajnai's incredible pipes, but the volume from the 10 performers as the company joined in could've filled a theater 10 times the size of the intimate Playhouse. It may have been opening night adrenaline, but the ensemble nearly blew the roof off the old building.
Katie Behrend really stepped up for "Just One Step," with loads of attitude and a Brooklyn accent to boot as she teetered on the edge to get her husband's attention.
Perhaps the loveliest tune of the whole evening was Jodi Schumacher's "Stars and the Moon," about a woman who learns she should be careful what she wishes for in a man. Schumacher's voice is pure and clean, but a bit more expression would have really elevated the tune.
Timothy Ecklor had no problem emoting throughout the show, especially in "King of the World," in which he wrung out every ounce of passion he could muster. Luke Rivard's percussion paired nicely with Ecklor's vocals.
A curious number was "Surabaya-Santa," sung by Nicole Mazur, which featured the offbeat humor also contained in a few others. The piece opens with a few bars that sound like its going right into "Wilkommen" from "Cabaret" and then begins to sound like "If I Were a Rich Man" from "Fiddler on the Roof." Mazur strutted about with considerable chutzpah as the disenchanted wife of Nick (as in St. Nicholas). There was something quite evil in her take on the Jolly Old Elf that made her seem more like Kathy Bates in "Misery" than the sweet doting Mrs. Claus.
Another fine piece and soloist were Ava Bush and "Christmas Lullaby." The youngest member of the cast, Bush certainly wasn't lacking in poise and stage presence.
That can be said of the entire cast, which also included Katie Hutsen, Ryan Castelaz, Teddy Mueller and Rebecca Osmon. All handled difficult tunes with ease and energy.
Sandra Renick served as assistant director for the show, while Mazur served as stage manager and Osmon as the choreographer.
Music directors Cathy Paquette and Leslie Salick on keyboards along with Rivard provided all the music without a hitch. There were several numbers in which a piano's clarity and subtlety was missed, however.
The few choreographed numbers were handled capably, though the men were not quite as adept as the women in their movements. While the women really rocked in "The World Was Dancing," the men didn't look so comfortable.
Some additional creative lighting also might've produced emotional depth to more scenes.
You have to enter "Songs for a New World" without expectations of leaving with a tune you can hum or characters you remember. But if you leave your expectations on Capitol Drive, you just might be pleasantly surprised at the array of thought-provoking, musically intricate tunes performed by incredibly talented cast members so close to home.
IF YOU GO
Who: Lake Country Playhouse
What: "Songs for a New World"
When: Through July 15
Where: Lake Country Playhouse, 221 E. Capitol Drive, Hartland
Information: (262) 367-4697, lakecountryplayhouse.net
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