Lift Our Eyes, Raise Our Heads, Face the Sun, and See Songs for a New World
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, June 25, 2022
Brilliantly ideated and flawlessly executed from start to finish, Songs for a New World, performed at Sunshine Brooks Theatre and running through Sunday June 26, is a study in intentionality. With only two more performances in the run, audiences should make any effort possible to grab a seat for this show, a collaboration between Oceanside Theatre Company and Teatro San Diego.
With music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, Songs for a New World originated with the theme of “a moment of decision,” but has a malleable enough palette that it can tell any story, given the right components. Those components find purchase here - co-directors Kevin “Blax” Burroughs and Julio Catano effectively drive attention to social issues including feminism, white privilege, racial justice, gender equality, and sexuality in a way that makes this 27-year-old theatrical song cycle relevant, alive, heartbreaking, and funny, each in turn.
After last year’s streamed version of this production received critical nods, it comes as no surprise that all performers cast in this re-mount - Timyra-Joi as Man 1, Brittany Adriana Castillo as Woman 1, Christian Duarte as Man 2, Keri Miller as Woman 2, and featured dancers Mikaela Macias and Joshua Washington - are exceptional. The belting and riffs are seemingly effortless and imbued with passion and purpose, and the movement, choreographed by Alyssa Ajay Junious, is expressive and additive to the story being told. Christmas Lullaby in particular was poignant at Friday night’s performance given the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe vs. Wade. Macias and Brittany Adriana Carrillo carried a rawness throughout the song that was concurrently devastating and beautiful to behold.
The duo of “The Flagmaker, 1775” transitioning into “Flying Home” also serves well to bring the show and its themes home. Miller’s portrayal of white privilege, willful ignorance, and malice is teeth-grindingly familiar and the scene which follows is simply brilliant in its execution and framing. The audience is wrapped in the breathtaking vocals of Timyra-Joi who shares a testament to lives lost and a rallying cry for fostering the titular new world. As every song throughout the production, this one is expertly accompanied by a tight 3-piece band led by musical director William Ah Sing. All four performers come together at the end and, for the first time, make eye contact with the audience as they harmonize, to great effect.
It's worth mentioning that the hand painted set by Reiko Huffman sets the perfect scene for the production in its paired simplicity and boldness: a single platform with four staircases throughout serves to create levels in a deep space, very effective for movement, blocking, and choreography. The cyclorama cycles through solid and gradient tones paired with fresnels are also effective at drawing the eye to the various messages and murals painted on the walls including the large Black Lives Matter above the stage and the outline of George Floyd off to stage left - the design team's intentionality is clear in these details.
This is a production that will leave an impression and perhaps a few tears as well.
Enjoy lush harmonies? Love theatre with a message? Interested in seeing something with great performance value? Oceanside and Teatro San Diego’s Songs for A New World (playing on Saturday, June 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 26 at 2 p.m.) will check all of the boxes. Tickets: oceansidetheatre.org.