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By Bridgette M. Redman
In the true tradition of rock opera, the performers in Hope Summer Repertory's "Songs for a New World" never stop singing, belting their gorgeous voices through a series of challenging songs that alternately electrify, charm and wow the audience.
Jason Robert Brown's musical focuses on theme rather than plot, offering tale after tale of people who must choose between staying with that which is known or moving into a new world fraught with risks and rewards. These can take the form of geographical change, relationship change, career change or even that of life or death.
This production is the first that Hope Summer Rep is holding in a new locale, the dance studio of the Holland Art Council. It's a space that adds a sophistication to the evening, with small tables allowing patrons to bring their own wine, beers and even vegetable trays. The walls are adorned with photography taken by Hope interns from out-of-state who were sent with cameras to explore their temporary new home.
The L-shaped space also allows for powerful staging, which puts the musicians center-stage with the actors moving around the grand piano and out into the audience. It's a strong directorial choice by Daina Robins, as the only exits her actors can make are through the audience. This puts the constant focus on the music and allows the performers to move in and out of the multiple worlds that Brown creates for them.
There are eight performers, four men and four women, who are equally strong as soloists and in blending their voices in an ensemble. In what must be an exhausting show, they never show signs of flagging, bringing a dynamic vitality to the stage that captures attention.
Two stand-out performers in this strong cast are Durron Marquis Tyre and Alyssa Magarian, both of whom are featured at the start and end of the show. Tyre becomes the captain of a Spanish sailing vessel, leading a crew who is hungry, scared and wants to return home. The year, 1492, clues us in to the journey they are taking and the ultimate success that follows the despair of this number. Tyre carries the weight and responsibility with vocals that fill both legs of the performance space and pulls all the other singers in as the storm rages. Later, in a similar number "Flying Home," he sings a heartbreaking number that comingles grief and hope.
Magarian shows tremendous versatility in her two solo numbers, "Just One Step" and "The Flagmaker, 1775." In the first, she is crazed to the point of comedy, angry and bitter as she threatens to step off the ledge of their 57-story apartment building. She spits her anger musically at her indifferent husband, Murray, showing way too much vim to be silenced by a cement dive. Later as the flagmaker, Magarian is frightened and determined, sewing a flag while the bombs burst around her, and she worries about her son who is on the front line. In both numbers, her clear voice is pregnant with emotion and demands empathy from all who listen.
In an equally touching solo, Lydia Blickley sings a Christmas lullaby where she vows to be like Mother Mary and change the world with the life that is growing inside her.
The second act was filled with emotionally poignant numbers: Jake Golliher and Emily Austin mourn the freedom they gained in separating in "I'd Give It All for You," Teddy Yudain declares himself "King of the World" as he tries to figure out why he's locked in a cell, Lili Torre expresses her disgust at being Mrs. Claus in "Surabaya Santa," and T.J. Wagner reveals how his fear of loss sends him fleeing from hope, love and happiness.
"Songs for a New World" is an emotionally powerful night of musical theater where the singing doesn't stop until the actors take their final bow. It is a story of choices, of adaptation, of despair and hope.
SHOW DETAILS: Hope Summer Repertory Theatre's "Songs for a New World" continues at Holland Area Arts Council, 150 E. 8th St., Holland. Performed in repertory through Aug. 9. Running time: 100 minutes. Tickets: $20. For information: 616-395-7890 or www.hope.edu/hsrt.
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