Arts Review: Songs for a New World – Chapel Off Chapel, Melbourne (Performances until June 12)

What better way to spend a wintery Sunday afternoon than at the theatre soaking up all the incredible orchestrations by the one and only, Jason Robert Brown.

As you enter The Loft at the iconic Chapel Off Chapel you are wistfully calmed by the sounds of a lapping sea, as a ship with its mast is set upon the stage. The dichotomy between the summery feels, longing for fish and chips on the beach certainly caused confusion for the belly and soul, but it did in fact have its place. Considering this show is but a mere song cycle with no real narrative to it, the individual accounts threaded by a motif of searching for one’s purpose in life was enhanced by the symbolism of the ship. A clever way to explore the theme of one’s journey.

With a show like this, a cast of great depth is needed to really convey the essence of each song, and what an outstanding cast this was to do the job. Each of the four singers are storytellers and share a vulnerability, a strength and a certain level of vigour in every account. Teagan Wouters is simply divine as her delicate tones and porcelain face sooth with each melody line. Her ability to connect to the text so naturally showed just how much of a genius Brown really is.

If ever there was a time for a new musical theatre crush, then crush on Linden Furnell. Where has this talent been? Australia has been waiting for you. Furnell’s effortlessness through song and story were so compelling it felt as if we were a part of his conversation. She was a real pleasure to bear witness to the emergence of a young star.

The sweetheart that is John O’Hara was in all ways effervescent and undeniably committed to each and every moment, whether it be comedic or angst driven. His versatility is what always stands him in good stead and what allows us to latch onto every word, every note and every breath. Rounding out the four is Natalie O’Donnell who brings a wonderful maturity to the mix; the perfect balance of raspiness, sass and openness. O’Donnell’s piercing blue eyes transfix you as she locks you into every tormented thought and ensures you never leave her gaze.

The impeccable direction by Luke Joslin brought new light to this theatre treasure and showcased the rich work of one of Broadway’s most loved composers. Under the musical direction of Geoffrey Castles these four stars shone brightly, but as any musician knows, the intricacies of Brown’s piano lines are a challenge to anyone. Well, not to Castles. His astute attention to detail has now led us to call him ‘Twinkle Fingers’. Joslin and Castles are a power duo who have created yet another fantastic piece of independent theatre with Blue Saint Productions.

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Songs for a New World is showing at Chapel Off Chapel in Melbourne until June 12. Tickets are available from here.

The reviewer attended the show on June 5.

Photo credit: Ben Fon