Pinpoint Productions The Arch, Chandlers Ford Mark Ponsford 27 May 2023
Initially conceived by Jason Robert Brown as a showcase for his own work, Songs For A New World evolved from being a collection of largely unconnected songs into a cohesive whole, initially presented Off-Broadway in 1995. Although it would be tempting (and not entirely inaccurate) to describe it as a Revue, its composer/lyricist prefers it to be seen as “a very theatrical song cycle”, all of the songs having one thing in common: “The Moment of Decision”. And that’s really all you need to know in advance, although going in with no prior knowledge is also just fine, since the gloriously uplifting opening number, ‘The New World’, sets the tone, style and format of the evening about to unfold before us.
The Arch, that terrific little venue, out of which continues to pour such impressive work, has become the ideal venue for a show such as this, its intimacy working in favour of both the material and the performances. There are so many complimentary adjectives one could apply to this current production, and among the first, to my mind, is ‘Class’. Sheer Class in every respect, from the intricate and mood-enhancing lighting, to the pitch-perfect sound balance between musicians and soloists. Rachael Thorpe’s dynamic and sensitive Musical Direction (the joyous music-making of the 8-piece band was a constant pleasure), and the equally sensitive and intricate direction of the piece by Louise Hodson – not a moment passes without being given its full weight. A frequent pitfall of cabaret-style revue is the temptation to simply “stand and deliver” the material, and there’s no danger of that happening here, thanks to a uniformly top-drawer company whose individual and collective acting is every bit as powerful as their beautiful singing. The Director has fashioned a production that flows strongly, and holds the audience’s attention constantly throughout the many changes of mood.
Jason Robert Browns’ score is (to say the least) a demanding one, both musically, and with regards to some massively complex lyrical passages, and due credit also needs to be paid to Gem Tunley, the production’s vocal coach, whose work with the company has clearly been painstaking. Liam Baker, who gave a superbly-sung Sweeney Todd in last year’s production of that demanding musical by Southampton Musical Society, seems to have acquired a whole new vocal palette for the current show, and it’s a revelation. Susie Maycock’s performance is every bit as wide-ranging and revelatory, not least when knocking her second-act ‘Surabaya Santa’ through the roof. (That last line!) Rachael Spencer is captivating, not least in her delivery of ‘Stars And The Moon’, to my mind every bit as beautiful as Betty Buckley’s acclaimed recording of that same song; and George Lambourne, not for the first time, holds us spellbound with a maturity and gravitas (with regard to both singing and acting) that belies his years.
The production was/is dedicated to the memory of Nigel Finch, who co-founded Pinpoint Productions with Louise Hodson in 2019, and whose eminence as both Mentor and Musical Director throughout the Southampton area and beyond was incomparable. How proud he would surely have been of this evening’s production, upholding as it has the same eminent standards for which he was known and respected. The programme tells us that he started this present project with Louise “over a glass of wine”… and as the company left the stage tonight to a cheering standing ovation, I couldn’t help but think it only right to raise a glass – and not only to the talents of the cast and team who had performed for us so beautifully. Here’s to the New World. And to Nigel as well.