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Songs for a New World | Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Directed and produced by Kai Wright and assisted by Tara Noonan, Songs for a New World is a beautifully crafted and emotionally charged song cycle that takes the audience on a heartfelt journey through the intricacies of love, loss, and life. With music and lyrics by Tony Award-winning Jason Robert Brown, celebrated for his renowned works like The Last Five Years, Bridges of Madison County and Parade, this work, first performed in 1995, continues to resonate in contemporary times, proving its status as a classic. This version, in particular, is a 5-star vocal masterclass.


Nestled away from the bustling city, Upstairs at the Gatehouse offers an ideal and intimate venue for a production like this. The set design by Sophie Goodman is kept to a minimum with just four chairs, a rug, and a shelf scattered with random objects, allowing the audience to fully immerse themselves in the power of the lyrics and the beauty of the melodies. This is complemented beautifully by Jason Fenn's lighting design, contributing significantly to the overall aesthetic.


There’s no plot or dialogue. Instead, the 16 songs unfold seamlessly, touching on personal themes like grief, faith and self-worth. Over two acts, each song is a carefully layered story that takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster, shifting from uplifting to heart-breaking, angry to joyful, humorous to soulful, but always bringing us back to a genuine moment of truth. The songs are pleasing to the ears, uplifting and instantly memorable, capable of standing as hits on their own.


It would not be fair to single out any performer, as each is given moments to shine. The characters are not named, allowing the focus to remain on the core elements of the work – the performers, lyrics, and the music itself. The small but talented ensemble of four, featuring Luke Walsh (Man 1), Lizzy Parker (Woman 1), Christopher Cameron (Man 2), and Eleanore Frances (Woman 2), delivers standout performances that showcase their vocal range and prowess. Their nuanced performances in their respective solos excel in bringing the music to life with sincerity, while their pitch-perfect delivery and emotional resonance elevate the entire performance to a truly captivating experience. However, it is in duets and quartets like 'The River Won’t Flow,' 'Flying Home,' and the finale 'Hear My Song,' that the gorgeous harmonies truly blend and soar, tugging at the audience’s heartstrings and highlighting Brown’s brilliant writing.


Sharing the spotlight is a 7-piece band led with flair and gusto by Musical Director and Pianist Liam Holmes. Holmes delivers a steady performance, demonstrating superb skill and never missing a beat throughout the entire show.


It is easy sometimes to lose ourselves in the glitz and glamour of mega musicals in the West End, but in a gem like Songs for a New World, we find ourselves. This show brims with raw energy and heart, and as the final number reminds us, we all go through challenging times, but none of us is ever truly alone. We leave feeling a little braver, a little more hopeful, knowing that "we’ll be fine".


Songs for a New World plays at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until March 3. For more information and tickets, follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Clarissa Debenham


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