p_1780_i_6714812 Rare is the Hollywood Fringe Festival entry that combines proven material, a brilliant cast, and superb direction to make for a production that rivals the best of what L.A. 99-seat theater has to offer.

A Cuppa Tea Theatre Company’s blackbox production of Songs For A New World, Jason Robert Brown’s glorious 1995 song cycle, is such a rarity.

Each of the archetypes brought to life by Cuppa Tea’s supremely talented cast is facing the new world that unexpected life changes can generate, whether it’s Scott Weston’s sailor on a journey to find a “promised land” in “On The Deck Of A Spanish Sailing Ship, 1492” or Sherry Mandujano’s angry wife taunting her philandering husband by threatening to take “Just One Step” off the ledge of their fifty-seventh story penthouse apartment or Emily Morris singing about a young woman’s need to escape from the fearful people around her in “I’m Not Afraid Of Anything” or Keith Montanezas a young man unable to break free from a toxic relationship in “She Cries.”

Christopher Maikish directs with consummate imagination and flair, insuring that each of the cycle’s sixteen songs not only tells its own story but forms part of a cohesive whole,

Choreographer Heidi Buehler’s ingenious dance sequences and Jim Blackett’s accomplished musical direction featuring Blackett on keyboard with percussion by Indigo Smith help immensely. Robert Selander’s inventive scenic design and Maikish and the production’s evocative lighting meet multiple Fringe Festival challenges. Isabel Mandujano’s costumes are winners too.

Mandujano, Montanez, Morris, and Weston make for a stunning, gorgeous-voiced young cast, and when their voices join in four-part harmony, the result is pure glory.

Songs For A New World, produced by Gino Marconi and Scott Stevens, offers an invigorating change of pace for Hollywood Fringe Festival-goers seeking something other than the vanity projects and new works with short shelf lives that seem to make up much of the Fringe.

I’ve seen three “fully-staged” regional productions of Jason Robert Brown’s ground-breaking Songs For A New World, each of them excellent. In virtually everything but budget, this one matches all three of them … and then some.

–Steven Stanley
June 22, 2014