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Theater review: 'Songs for a New World' at International City Theatre

October 22, 2009 |  5:15 pm

Songs.300 "It's about one moment" runs the key motif in "Songs for a New World." Actually, Jason Robert Brown's 1995 theatrical cabaret is all acute moments, keenly delivered in the ingratiating International City Theatre production under Jules Aaron's airtight direction.
   The implicit theme is community as eternal counter to American turbulence, yet Brown's marvelous story-songs carry individual points. Since its WPA Theatre premiere directed by Daisy Prince, "Songs" has become a regional staple in various takes, such as Jon Lawrence Rivera's environmental, 9/11-centric interpretation in 2003.
   Musical director Brent Crayon, who conducted that acclaimed staging, commandingly repeats here. His expert combo nails Brown's rangy eclecticism, as does a perfectly pitched cast, vocally lush, dramatically fluid.

Parnia Ayari exudes a clear-toned wit that belies her youth, from Scarsdale-suicidal "Just One Step" and Brecht/Weill pastiche "Surabaya-Santa" to a house-stilling "Stars and the Moon." Jennifer Shelton, always wonderful, proactively inhabits "I'm Not Afraid of Anything," radiant at her plangent embrace of unwed motherhood in "Christmas Lullaby." Brent Schindele's Arrow-Collar appeal and ripe baritone give "She Cries" convincing scope, and Anthony Manough adroitly controls his fierce gospel wail before letting it rip in "Flying Home." When their harmonizing nears Swingle Singers terrain, it's breathtaking.
  Aided by choreographer Allison Bibicoff and smooth designs, notably Jared A. Sayeg's lighting, director Aaron keeps simplicity and emotional truth a priori, which renders his splashiest touches -- a prison-stark "King of the World," an iconic "The Flagmaker, 1775" -- doubly incisive. Currently rivaled only by the Production Company's pocket "Sweeney Todd" and the Donmar Warehouse reboot of Brown's "Parade" for quietly inventive substance, these enthralling "Songs" linger long beyond the vibrant finale.

--David C. Nichols
"Songs for a New World," International City Theatre at Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 15. $35-$45. (562) 436-4610 or Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Photo: Anthony Manough,  Pamia Ayari, Jennifer Shelton, Brent Schindele. Photo credit: Shashin Desai.