I arrived at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre about an hour before curtain for Songs For A New World.. I expected to grab my playbill and head to a local shop for a bite to eat before the play. Instead, I was seated at a round table and given a menu. The last time I had been to a live theatre show was February 2020. I let the nostalgia take hold and let myself bask in the quaintness of storefront theatre. I found myself content and satisfied that Songs for a New World, directed by Fred Anzevino, was my first show back.
Featuring a stripped back set (James Kolditz) with only a huge moon to background the performances, Anzevino’s production is an unembellished and sincere approach to a musical that could easily veer into the overwrought. By focusing on the actors’ chemistry and performances, Anzevino allows for the lyrics and music to take the foreground. The musical lacks a singular plot and neat-and-tidy character development. Instead, each number works as a stand-alone vignette. What ties the numbers together are that each character sings about moments in their lives that have shaped or affected them in significant ways. Whether on the cusp of a happy moment, or on the brink of a devastating tragedy, each number feels like an invitation. “The River Won’t Flow,” by Man 1 (Eustace J. Williams) and Man 2 (Matthew Hunter), reminded me of the moments in my life where I felt like nothing I did would change my bad outcomes, and “I’d Give It All For You,” sung by Man 2 & Woman 1 (Nora Navarro) reminded me of the loves in my life I could never turn my back on. In the last few months, I’ve only been able to think of all that I’ve lost. This production was an aesthetic prompting of all the life that has been lived and that will be lived in all the futures. Life has been more than this pandemic, and will be more than this pandemic.
The vocal power of the ensemble was well worth getting out of the house. Nora Navarro has a voice fit for stadiums. When she belted, I could feel the rhythm of her soul vibrate through the storefront’s walls. Emily Goldberg is the quintessential performer. All her numbers seep with vibrant characters, helped by her animated performance and commitment to the outlandish accents the text demands. Matthew Hunter’s presence and reception to other people’s voices cemented the ensemble’s chemistry among each other. Embodied throughout his performance, Hunter felt like he was truly of the world of this musical. Anytime I got distracted, I looked to him to guide me back to the heart of the story: surrender. Sometimes, it’s surrendering to our dreams of comfort that lead us to accept a life without love, as Goldberg sings in “Stars and the Moon.” Sometimes, it’s uncritically surrendering to the version of ourselves we used to be, because we dislike what we’ve become, as in the song “King of the World,” magnetically sung by Eustace J. Williams.
I was seated across from where the musical director, Jeremy Ramey, was playing the accompaniment alongside the actors. I admire how the director chose not to hide the accompanist with a curtain or with “theatre magic.” As I saw the actors belt, I saw Ramey play to his heart’s content. It reminded me how actors are not the only components of live theatre. Ramey was just as much a part of the performance as the actors and designers, a reminder for the audience that there is more to every production than just the faces you see onstage. To experience the vocal prowess of the leads with Ramey’s enthusiastic grooving in the corner of my eye felt like the summation of all that I love about live theatre.
As I sit at the end of the show, I’m left with the background of the moon. In a highlight of the night, “Stars and the Moon,” we see the story of a woman who turns down two loving and impoverished romantic prospects for the neglectful and rich man who can give her a yacht. The climax of the song is her realization that her life of material comforts can never replace the intangible feeling of true love — all of which is symbolized by her desire for the moon. Live theatre is the moon. While Netflix and streaming services have entertained me in the last 18 months, they could never give me the moon. They could never satisfy what live theatre does. Whereas the protagonist in the song was unable to have it, I’m so glad that I was able to have the moon again. It feels good to be back in a storefront theatre.
Eustace J. Williams (Man 1)
Emily Goldberg (Woman 2)
Matthew Hunter (Man 2)
Nora Navarro. (Woman 1)
Cathy Reyes McNamara (u/s Woman 1 and Woman 2)
Laz Estrada (u/s Man 1 and Man 2)
On October 7 & 8, Cathy Reyes McNamara will perform the roles played by Emily Goldberg.
James Kolditz (He/Him, Production Designer)
Steph Taylor (She/Her, Costume Designer)
Rick Sims (He/Him, Sound Designer)
Macy Kloville (She/Her, Audio Engineer)
Piper Kirchhofer (She/Her, Asst. Lighting Designer)
Nicholas Reinhart (He/Him, Production Manager)
Abby Truett (She/Her, Stage Manager)
Christopher Pazdernik (Any, Managing Director and Casting Director)
Jamal Howard (He/Him, Choreographer/ Associate Director)
Jeremy Ramey (He/Him, Music Director)
Fred Anzevino (He/Him, Director)
Photo Credit: Liz Lauren. Foreground: Eustace J. Williams. Background: Nora Navarro, Matthew Hunter, Emily Goldberg.
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