Lambert Jackson Productions have been a welcome lifeline since theatres closed, creating new shows filmed in isolation. Last month we had the masterpiece that was The Last Five Years - this time was the turn of another Jason Robert Brown show Songs For A New World.
This was the first time I had seen this show and didn't know much about it before watching - that can be a bit confusing, so let me break down the basics - this isn't a conventional musical, more a song cycle. Each song is seemingly unrelated but the one connection they all have is the moment of decision. Each song is sung by a different character even if the same actor sings the songs. If that doesn't make sense of you, just think about Daveed Diggs going from Lafayette in Act 1 of Hamilton to Thomas Jefferson in Act 2. Now we're on the same page!
From the offset, you got the feeling you were witnessing something special. While this show originated in 1995 when the world was less... shall we say, challenging, this production ties in with current events and milks us for how emotional and vulnerability us theatre lovers are at the moment... in a good way of course. This is done to powerful effect while the four main cast members sing opening number 'The New World' to videos of closed theatres in the West end and Broadway and sound bites from news reports over the horror story that is 2020. The shots of theatres are reprised in the final number in the show, meaning a show that can usually pack an emotional punch is even heavier in the current climate.
That's not where the tie in to current events ends. On the second number, Cedric Neal sings 'On The Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship' while footage from the Black Lives Matter protests are played out, giving new depth to the lyrics. Cedric Neal has proven what a powerhouse he is with appearances in lockdown concerts Turn Up and Hello Harry. He completes a theatrical hat-trick with this., proving once again he can sing literally anything flawlessly like the absolute star he is.
Cedric Neal was just one piece of the puzzle that was this amazing cast. Grouping together four of the greatest talent the West end has to offer was the jewel in the crown of this spectacular show. Rachel John once again proved her incredible range and acting ability with standout performances throughout the show including 'I'm not afraid of anything', and Ramin Karimloo lends his gorgeous vocals throughout the show to glorious effect, even when he had to follow an unexpected (and always unwelcome) cameo from Trump.
It feels unfair to single out one person as the four main cast members all delivered a 10/10 performance but I have to give a special mention to the incredible Rachel Tucker who had the most versatile, challenging and animated songs of the night. From the anger and emotion she displayed on 'Just one step' as a woman stepping out on her window ledge (well, her couch but use your imagination) to the brilliant 'Surabaya Santa' where she delivered an acting masterclass portraying Mrs Claus to genius effect to potentially the two standout performances of the night in 'Stars and the moon' and 'The flagmaker', every time she was on screen, she was completely captivating.
It wasn't just the four of them in the show. You don't know Shem Omari James... but you wiill. His rendition of act 1 closing number 'The Steam Train' was a highlight of the show and made sure everybody remembered his name. He will go far.
Every single thing about this production was brilliant, from the use of the Palladium safety curtain before the show and in the interval giving you all the feels for real theatre, to the flawless cast to the use of current events to bring a more emotional gravitas to the songs. The details of each cast member wearing different clothes, having different hair in some cases (not Cedric's obviously) and filming each various number of theirs in different rooms and places in their house ensured this never got boring.
While we are all clearly still missing live theatre, these filmed performances are the next best thing and definitely welcome to help us keep up our theatre fix. Lambert jackson struck gold again with this one - up there with The Last Five Years for its genius. If you didn't feel extreme emotions watching this, you should check your pulse as you may be dead.
You still have two more chances to catch Songs For A New World, tonight (Friday 24th July) and tomorrow (Saturday 25th July) at 7.30pm both days. Fridays show is captioned. Tickets cost £12.50 and are available from https://lwtheatres.co.uk/whats-on/songs-for-a-new-world/