The Ché Café hosted an intimate performance of Songs for a New World on November 24. The show was produced by Muir Musical and co-directed/choreographed by Martha Sheets and Pilaree Dulay. Muir Musical is a student-run organization that provides an outlet to those passionate about musical theater. This is the second year that Muir Musical has put on a show during the fall quarter in addition to their traditional large-scale production in the spring.
Songs for a New World left a huge impact on audience members, evoking laughter, tears, and standing ovations. The show was unique in that it did not rely on extravagant props, spoken dialogue, or even a storyline.
The directors’ note describes Songs for a New World as an “abstract musical without a clear beginning, middle, or end,” with all songs connected by the theme of finding support and hope in times of uncertainty. Sheets hopes that audience members who resonated with the characters’ moments of insecurity and struggle will learn that “if you find your community, and listen to their stories, and tell yours, ‘you will be fine.’”
The minimalistic stage only featured a few props, but I found that the stripped-down aesthetic added to the story as it allowed the cast’s strong vocals and choreography to shine. Another pleasant surprise was the unconventional staging; cast members sifted throughout the cafe, danced through the crowd, and sang on the sides of the aisles. This style immersed the audience in the story, engaging us with the pain, fear, and excitement of the performance.
Four main actors helped convey this message, playing different characters in each song while accompanied by dance ensemble members. The choreography paired with each vocal performance mirrored the characters’ emotions or life events. This direction provided a new layer or context to the already complex world within the songs’ lyrics. Because the music touched across genres such as pop, jazz, and gospel, the dances became instrumental in uniting these different styles. Sheets and Dulay were drawn to how “movement and dance could be used to create the compilation of stories it tells.” Songs for a New World is usually run as a concert with minimal dances, but the director-choreographer duo had a different vision: The two aimed to represent the “vocalists’ fears, desires, insecurities, hopes” through dances that ranged from contemporary, jazz, swing, and more.
I still find myself humming these songs throughout the day thanks to the powerful execution of each scene from the show’s four actors. Man 1, played by John Wells III, presented a vibrant energy that filled the cafe. His visible, and almost tangible, passion and lively spirit undoubtedly entertained the audience. Eddie Pintado, as Man 2, showcased another strong addition, with his performance commanding the audience’s attention. Pintado’s voice provided stability to the show as he carried himself with a clear sense of professionalism. Kara Coughenour, who played Woman 1, helped to keep the show grounded with her angelic presence and soft voice. Coughenour’s scenes brought me back to an atmosphere of simplicity and authenticity. Roselle-Angeline Castro, as Woman 2, proved to be a significant force during her solos. I appreciated Castro’s ability to display a range of emotions; her acting consistently remained convincing as she played a diverse set of characters.
Despite the production having already ended, I know these songs and performances will continue to play over and over again in my mind.
Danielle Hernandez is a Staff Writer for The Triton.