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.
By the time the cast reaches the final number – yes, it’s called “Hear My Song” – they seem to have run out of steam along with the audience. There’s only so much yearning, exploring, dreaming, and reaching for the sky that one can tolerate.
Brandy Jacobs’ set, a 1930s-style art deco bar, where the characters come to drink, brood, and sing out their sorrows, is attractive enough, but doesn’t offer any particular meaning. The aforementioned lighting design by Cullen Pinney is fine when it’s spotlighting various characters during their solos but becomes ridiculous when it takes part in hammering home some trite symbolism. Director Marco Gomez must also take responsibility for some of the cheesy choices.
It’s surprising that only six months after its ill-judged staging of the actual Jacques Brel that DOMA would take on this similarly structured but musically inferior piece. Some entertainment value might be gotten if one arrived predisposed for an evening of bad songs and could find amusement in the mawkishness of the material.
Songs for a New World, at the MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Avenue, Los Angeles, plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through June 3rd. Reservations can be made online or by calling (323) 465-0693.
Photo: Michael Lamont