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22nd February 2023

Review: Songs for a New World (UMMTS)

The University of Manchester’s Musical Society’s rendition of Songs for a New World wows with warm talent
Review: Songs for a New World (UMMTS)
Photo: UMMTS

Once again I was absolutely thrilled with the talent on show at the University of Manchester Musical Theatre Society’s (one night only) performance of Songs for a New World. This musical (written by Jason Robert Brown) has always confused me slightly as there is no discernible plot, rather it is a collection of songs examining the relationships between people from all walks of life.

The lovely warm, cosy setting of the Feel Good Club made for the perfect venue of these stories. They even served a special cocktail commemorating the night, the proceeds of which went back into funding theatre. 

As per usual, the singing was absolutely outstanding with the performers working to a standard far above some professionals. The opening number was glorious with harmonies mixing beautifully, filling the room with goose-bump worthy sound. Xavier Moras Spencer gave a glorious rendition of ‘On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship’ (1492), with vocal runs being executed fantastically. He was accompanied by Aimee Wilmot, Isobel Rust, and Max Rosen whose voices blended to give a full bodied sound that seemed to shake you to the bone.

Following this, Lucy Whelan sang ‘Just One Step’, possibly one of my favourite character songs ever. She demonstrated pure acting finesse, completely embodying this enraged, rather attention-seeking woman, as well as singing the number perfectly. I often find that with shows set like a concert, with just a stage and three microphones, performers can get stuck and just ‘stand and sing’. However, this was far from the case, especially in this song. 

‘I’m Not Afraid of Anything’, performed by Laura Billingsley is a song that has the danger of getting misconstrued as just a pretty song. On the contrary though, this take on it had a lovely development from an innocence of character to a fierce determination towards the end, all while retaining a voice like melting honey. Unfortunately, ‘The River Won’t Flow’ was drowned out a little by the drums and so I struggled to hear some of the deep tones that Robin Collins was executing.

Megan Handy then sang ‘Stars and Moon’ in a gorgeous clear tone, with amazing emotional execution, making the audience laugh with the character’s inability to be satisfied with the material possessions she’s gifted by men in her life. Max Rosen likewise gave a comical but incredible performance of ‘She Cries’, the perfect ending to Act One. 

The Act Two opener, ‘The World Was Dancing’, is probably my least favourite song of this musical. Noah Wessel, Lauren Billingsley, Aimee Wilmot, and Xavier Moras Spencer did reinvent this song a little for me, especially Noah with his jazzy, deep voice. Then Lucy Whelan was back with another showstopper performance, this time ‘Surabaya Santa’, a hilarious portrayal of a strained relationship, as told by Mrs Claus! Not only was her characterisation right on the money, she also opted up the ending note.

Although every single cast member was incredible, her songs were my personal favourites. ‘Christmas Lullaby’ was then sung gorgeously by Isobel Rust, however I would have loved to have seen a touch more emotion exhibited. ‘King of the World’, a song typically sung by male performers, was then performed by Casey Bell. The decision to give Bell this song was made shrewdly as she was absolutely fantastic. This is again, not a song I tend to remember from the show, but her performance certainly made me remember and love the song in a new way. 

The tender moments between Noah Wessel and Carys McNish in ‘I’d Give It All for You’ were heartwarming and their voices complimented each other perfectly. This duet was a very close runner up for my favourite song, their acting was so good I felt as though I could feel their connection through the sound.

Likewise, Aimee Wilmot’s rendition of ‘The Flagmaker’ (1775), was absolutely breathtaking, a perfect mixture of passion and excellent technicality. ‘Flying Home’, led by Hebe Jones, was a wonderful penultimate song and the finale, ‘Hear My Song’ was absolutely exquisite. The performers all singing together filled the room with warmth and I definitely saw some misty eyes and proud faces in the audience!

I cannot congratulate the fantastic creative team (Ella Kendrick, Francesca Wolfin, Louis Rost, and Hannah McCoy) enough for putting together a truly spectacular night. I was especially impressed with Louis Rost as the Band Director, who played first piano throughout the show. If you glanced over at him at any point, you could see the utter passion on his face when he played. Considering this show was sold out a few days in advance, I would seriously be ready to get tickets for their upcoming performance of Dogfight. Treat it with similar enthusiasm as many of us did attempting to get Taylor Swift tour tickets with the absolute purge that is ticketmaster!

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