ABET opened its last show of 2013, with Jason Robert Brown’s creation entitled “Songs for a New World.” Mr. Brown put this collection of his songs together several years ago, prior to his achieving fame by winning a Tony for his musical “Parade” (which was staged at Players by the Sea, a few seasons ago).
This is a musical but one unlike the traditional musicals we experience, most of which have linear storylines and unambiguous conclusions. The seventeen songs in this two-act production stand alone, and each song has its own plot that unfolds as it is being sung. If there is an underlying theme, we could say it is about life, and moments and incidents in the changing lives of the character or characters in each song. Needless to say, as challenging as the music is to the vocalists and the band, it is equally challenging to the audience, as it requires listening with added attention to the lyrics for the artist’s intent to be fully appreciated.
Let us set the stage for you. It is performed along the entire ABET stage, in front of a black scrim behind which we can see the orchestra at various points. On the stage are four white stools and four white square boxes, all of which are frequently moved about to accommodate the on-stage action. The four performers, two men and two women, are dressed in simple white linen attire.
To best give you an idea of what goes on in this dynamic show, we will briefly relate in condensed versions a portion of some of the stories in the songs. The songs include both solos and ensemble pieces.
TYLER HARWOOD and JENNIFER C. PAULK, two performers new to the Jacksonville scene, performed “I’d Give It All For You,” which explored the difficulty of relationships and the problems that can drive couples apart. After considering what was not good with their life together, they finally conclude that life together is after all better than being apart. Mr. Harwood, a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida where he appeared in several musicals, is now making Jacksonville his home and is in business with his father and brother. Tyler has an imposing stage presence and a tremendous vocal range. JENNIFER C. PAULK has a family and is now making Jacksonville her home. She brings a very impressive resume of musicals performed in California and North Carolina. She has performed such roles as Mother in “Ragtime” and Lucy in “Jekyll & Hyde,” and she has a wonderfully clear and rich voice.