Regulus // Issue 3 // November 2022
Life is a series of moments, then another, then another. And at some of these moments we reach a crossroads, when we have to make a decision that will impact our future lives. This sense of change and uncertainty is at the heart of Songs for a New World, a complex show that features a cycle of songs all connected by a similar theme, ‘the moment of decision’. Each song tells a different story, and there are no recurring characters in the show.
Director, Laurence Wiseman, says exploring the tension experienced at the point of decision was an interesting space to work in, especially when so beautifully depicted through the rich storytelling and musical score of Songs for a New World. “The song cycle takes us on a journey through the various facets encountered in this space – hope, joy, intrigue, fear, excitement, apprehension, wonder, with the outcome of their decision or indecision propelling them forward to a new world.”
The show’s themes were also closely related to the process of putting the show together, he says. “Taking a show originally created for four performers and adapting it into an ensemble-based show for 25 was quite a challenge. Added to this was the decision to stage it ‘in-the-round’ in Gym 1. I did begin to ask myself, have I bitten off more than I can chew?”
The simple, elegant monochrome staging, of various shaped white blocks and tables in the centre of the performance space, gave the performers plenty of room and height to work with. This was particularly valuable in the larger production numbers and gave the 360 degree audience good views of the often fast-moving action. Apart from the lead performers, most of the ensemble wore simple black pants and singlets, which contrasted beautifully with the set.
With a highly talented cast, exceptional band, and expert production team, including Musical Director, Duncan Ferguson, and Production Manager, Ginnie Thorner, who all worked tirelessly and collaboratively over many months, the show was realised with skill, passion, and professionalism. Choreographer, Hana Pearce (OC 2019), returned to lead the performers through some stunning and challenging choreography, which was a key aspect of the show. The support of the Physical Education and Sports Departments, who gave up their space for an extended period during the rehearsals and performances, was also appreciated by the production team, says Laurence. “I am immensely proud of the cast, band, and crew members, who through determination, diligence, and a commitment to traverse the unknown difficulties, created a performance which, in my mind, shone with joy.”
The Company’s harmonious performance of Opening Sequence: The New World, set the stage for the show’s central theme, when one moment can change someone’s life forever. The audience was transported back to the fifteenth century with On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship, 1492, with Chantelle Xiong (Year 11) giving a stirring performance, supported by the Company, as a Captain praying for the safety of the souls aboard her ship. Grace Lawrence (Year 13) evoked both humour and pathos from the audience as a wealthy wife in an unsatisfactory marriage, who threatened to jump from the window of her high rise apartment to get her husband’s attention in Just One Step. Rebecca Brown (Year 13) was another strong female performer, whose character in I’m Not Afraid of Anything, realised how the fears of others had held her back.
Tamaroa Connelly and Hugo Ranken (both Year 11) supported by the Company delivered a spirited performance as a pair of down-on-their-luck derelicts swapping stories of woe in The River Won’t Flow. The use of tankards by the cast was a clever addition to the choreography. Grace Lawrence returned to give another powerful performance in Stars and the Moon, as a woman lamenting the love she sacrificed for wealth and comfort. Hugo Ranken was totally convincing as a man under the spell of the woman he was in love with in She Cries.
The first act ended on a high with The Steam Train, performed by the Company, with Estée Wilke (Year 13), one of the show’s standout performers, as a teenager from a poor New York neighbourhood, determined to overcome disadvantages to become a future basketball star. The cast did not falter while delivering the challenging, fast-paced choreography, which had multiple basketballs in play throughout.
The second act opened with powerful performances from Year 13 students, Harry Withers and Rachel Holyoake and Company, in The World Was Dancing, about a man deciding to leave his fiancée. Elise Vaudrey (Year 13) gave one of the show’s most impressive performances in Surabaya-Santa, captivating the audience with her portrayal of a dissatisfied Mrs Claus, who was scornful of her lacklustre husband. Estée Wilke had the audience spellbound with her beautiful rendition of Christmas Lullaby, about a women’s joy at discovering she is pregnant. Together, Estée and Edward Pitts (Year 11) later delivered a great rendition of I’d Give It All for You, about a pair of former lovers reuniting.
In King of the World, Xanthe Pearce (Year 11) and Andrew Castles (Year 12) were compelling as they told the story of a person demanding to be freed and returned as a leader of men. The powerful and vulnerable voice of Cindy Xiong (Year 13) was perfect for The Flagmaker, 1775, about a woman sewing a flag during the Revolutionary War, and trying to stay hopeful that her husband and son would return.
The final three songs were sung by the Company. The first Flying Home, was about a soldier who had died in battle, followed by Final Transition: The New World, and Hear My Song, which expressed the hope gained by experiencing hardship and the strength we can gain from one another in challenging times. This song was the last performance in a St Andrew’s production for a group of twelve Year 13 students, with nine of these students having been involved in an incredible five or more productions as cast, crew, or musicians.
Director, Laurence Wiseman, says the themes of the show were especially poignant given the changing world we live in. “This show suggests the ‘new world’ is a place where we, as people, can acknowledge and accept the complexities of life, and an appreciation for the tensions that must be navigated by each individual in this funny thing called ‘human existence’. Perhaps grace and empathy (at least) will come from that.”