Curtain speeches are a quaint South Florida tradition, usually reserved for thanking sponsors or pleas for support.

But on Oct. 12, the remarks from Slow Burn Theatre’s Patrick Fitzwater were clearly emotional as the company prepared to take the stage at the Broward Center again for the first time in 579 days.

The effusive artistic director noted the dark days of the pandemic when Slow Burn — and nearly every other regional company — thought they had given their last performances. He also pointed out that the shared trials brought competitors together, forging friendships that were difficult to maintain during a normal season.

He thanked both his performers, musicians and patrons in the Amaturo Theatre for accepting rigid COVID testing protocols that made a safe return to live, indoors theater in the massive complex possible once again. And, 10 minutes later, the lights went up on Jason Robert Brown’s “Songs for a New World.”

The show was in many ways a smart choice — with a cast of four, Fitzwater was able to coach a full understudy cast should any member or all be exposed or come down with a breakthrough case of the coronavirus. “Songs” was also in keeping with Slow Burn’s commitment to intelligent shows that challenge both performers and audiences.

Brown’s inaugural musical, first produced Off Broadway, may have checked Fitzwater’s boxes to ease back onto stage, but it’s not the easiest show to sell. There’s not even the flimsiest of Broadway plots and it’s not quite a pure song cycle, but rather a loose collection (some might say “hodge podge”) of songs about those critical moments and decisions in life faced by all kinds of people — ordinary and historical, real and imagined.

The reference to the “new world” comes early, sung by the crew of a Spanish galleon in 1492 sailing off into the unknown. There is an agoraphobic middle-aged New York housewife who takes her first steps down from her apartment and the laments of a young man and woman who lament their choices in love. Even a forlorn Mrs. Claus cries into her peppermint martini on Christmas Eve and Betsy Ross battles with a needle and thread to construct the first American flag. “Songs” is highly conceptual at its best.

The opening night cast under the musical direction of Eric Alsford acquitted the material well, performing Brown’s syncopated jazz-, gospel- and pop-infused score with passion and precision. Darius J. Manuel shined in R&B influenced numbers and popped quite a few dance moves that elicited cheers from the audience. Cecilia Snow’s soaring voice was well-suited to the several 11 o’clock numbers peppered throughout the show. Handsome Timothy Michael Quinn had the many gay men in the audience captivated with Heather Jane Rolff displayed her capable comic chops in the most entertaining numbers.

The cast was backed up by a generous seven-piece band that punctuated the realization that live theater had indeed returned to the Broward Center, even where the minimal set of boxy risers and columns reminded us this was a cautious first step.

We look forward to the remaining shows of the season (“Kinky Boots,” “Once on this Island,” “Matilda,” “Head Over Heels”), all the sorts of big splashy musicals we love from Slow Burn, but for now, we’re thrilled with this first step.

In the meantime, reserve your tickets and let’s get on with the theater.


Slow Burn Theatre Co. presents Jason Robert Brown’s “Songs for a New World” through Oct. 24 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets start at $49 at BrowardCenter.org. Note: Masks must be worn at all times inside the facility and proof of a negative COVID test (or, alternatively, vaccination) is required for entry.


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