Songs of the Northern River review by Shannessy Danswan

****stars

A mix between Stephen Sondheim and Jason Robert-Brown, A.J Ridefelt is one to watch out for … from patter, to powerhouse, to pianissimo, the six ladies that make up Songs of the Northern River showcase Ridefelt’s evocative and dynamic compositions.

Covering a broad spectrum of genres, such as jazz, contemporary music theatre, and some classical elements, Ridefelt effectively captures an array of feminine emotions and experience. Appreciative of his ability to write melodies for women (what a nice change!), his complex, quick-witted, and thought-provokingly relevant lyrics increase his work’s ‘WOW’ factor.

Directed by Jess D’Souza and Musically Directed by Rachel Lewindon, the all-female cast/director dynamic is evident through the clearly connected depiction of the inherent female condition. Some great staging saw songs being performed from every corner – a dynamic that I really appreciated. Although, at times the group harmonies suffered from an unbalanced-ness I couldn’t put my finger on, however this was only really obvious in the group number towards the end. Some solo numbers also felt shaky, however this could simply have been a result of first night jitters.

Despite being an overall fast-paced, entertaining, and heartfelt show, there were some staging elements that could have been improved with more specificity. At times when the ensemble meagrely meandered from one side of the stage to the other, whimsically staring ‘over yonder’, it was very evident that their storytelling was inhibited. Whereas, when directed towards stillness, or on the other hand, choreographed ‘to the nines’ by Matthew Dear, the actors were evidently more believable.

Looking at the other end of the production scale, it is to be noted that Alexandra Runge dressed the cast to a ‘T’. A modest lighting scheme reserved space for both contemporary and traditionally theatrical costumes to shine. The simple spot/wash lighting also leant itself to enabling each performer to own their space on the stage.

Individually, the women had an abundance of varied abilities to offer. Some were better actors than others, whilst some were better singers or dancers. For example, Teagan Nowicki is clearly a mini Kate Shindle in the making (endlessly expressive and a powerful singer to boot), Shannen Alyce Quan has an undoubtedly gorgeous voice and innate sincerity of storytelling, Savannah Lind boasts beautiful balletic lines, Anne Gasko brings a certain sophistication to the stage that is necessary when weaving female-centric tales, and both Olivia Morison and Ambrose Steinmetz allow a youthfulness to shine through their playful candour, reminding the audience that one can experience a rollercoaster of emotions in a one hour song cycle if it’s written well enough!

Definitely an A.J Ridefelt fan, I can safely say that his songs deserve to be heard on the main stage. Every actress brought something unique and special to his ever-evolving work, and seeing new songs brought to life by young, emerging female artists was something truly special.

Direction: 3.5/5

performances were 3.5/5

Choreography: 4/5

Musical Direction: 3.5/5

Compositions: 4.5/5

Writing: 4.5/5

Costume: 4/5

Lighting: 4/5

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