SUPAS’s Songs For A New World – Sheffield University Drama Studio, 23 November 2023
Review by Jacob Bush.
Never one to hide away from a challenge, this semester, alongside The Addams Family which performs in early December, SUPAS have taken on Jason Robert Brown’s song cycle Songs For A New World. The series of songs tell stories of people who find themselves entering a new of chapter of life and having to decide which direction to go in. It is never easy to capture an audience in a theatrical setting when there’s no plot to speak of, but this company have produced an enjoyable and engaging piece of musical theatre.
CJ Simon, after a tremendous performance in Sweeney Todd in the spring, takes the director’s seat for this complex piece of theatre. Simon ensures that every musical number tells a story, and we always feel like we get enough depth with the characters despite most characters only being on stage for one song. He finds a fantastic range of emotions throughout the show, with a good balance of deeply moving numbers and really fun moments.
Songs For A New World, and Jason Robert Brown scores in general, are known for being challenging yet musical director Bethany Oaten, with assistance from Annie Lunt, rises the challenge admirably. The vocals are crystal clear, with barely a word being lost once the sound levels had been corrected for the second act. The orchestra sound wonderful, and percussionist Tom Gwilliam deserves a mention for his passion and enthusiasm. He is a joy to watch whilst never being too distracting.
The cast of four each deliver strong performances throughout. Maddie Carling is completely captivating as Woman I. Her vocals soar beautifully, giving a gorgeous rendition of I’m Not Afraid. Carling’s performance of Christmas Lullaby is incredibly moving, creating one of the highlights of the show. Katie Weller also delivers gorgeous vocals as Woman II. She also shows incredible versatility as an actor, going from the optimism of Stars and the Moon, the hopelessness of Just One Step and the moving nature of The Flagmaker, 1775 flawlessly. Coby Brown gives strong vocals with a strong stage presence as Man II. Their chemistry with Carling is lovely to watch. Completing the cast is Alice Bell as Man I. Despite the role being written for a male performer and it being strange hearing Bell sing about being a ‘king’ and a ‘brother’, she completely sells it. She has total command of the stage for her big moments, and makes all the musical numbers work perfectly for her. She is a powerhouse belter, whilst hitting some very low notes with ease.
SUPAS have delivered a wonderful production of Songs For A New World, and it’s fantastic to see a student theatre company providing the opportunity to perform lesser known, more intimate and small scale musicals.