It's ironic that Jason Robert Brown's musical revue, now playing at the MET Theatre in Hollywood, is titled Songs for a New World, since these are songs of the most hackneyed kind that would surely have been cut from a show during its out-of-town tryouts.
Described as "a revue in the mold of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well," Songs is a similar collection of themed compositions, but that's where the similarity ends. Brown's material suffers from a chronic lack of emotional depth or insight. It's as if a computer was programmed to create a series of songs in the Brel style and, as instructed, output a war song, a ballad, a love song, a mother song, et al...but the result is so opportunistic and unaffecting that it becomes risible.
The DOMA Theatre Company's production is far better than the material deserves, with a fine five-piece band led by Chris Raymond, whose talent was utilized much more wisely in the company's recent production of The Who's Tommy.
The vocalists – Andrea Arvanigian, AnnaLisa Erickson, Malek Hanna, and Mookie Johnson – all have fine voices and deliver the material with a real commitment, which helps during Act One, but by the second act, when it becomes apparent that the material isn't going to improve, some dodgy choices in choreography and lighting push the production into bad camp territory.
Arvanigian's performance of "Christmas Lullaby," performed so earnestly, only serves to magnify the awfulness of the lyrics. And when the stage is washed in the holy light of a stained-glass window during the final chorus, it's just too much. Similarly, when everyone dresses in military garb for "The Flagmaker, 1775," marching in place and saluting, and Erickson turns to the audience with a haunted expression and a folded-up American flag cradled in her arms, it's unintentionally hilarious.