Review: ‘Newton’s Cradle’, a special musical about a special young man at NYMF

Asya Danilova

  • OnStage New York Critic

Review: ‘Newton’s Cradle’, a special musical about a special young man 

New York Musical Festival is over but hopefully we will have a chance to see Newton’s Cradle again. The musical won 6 well-deserved awards, including NYMF Award for Best Musical Sponsored by Play-by-Play. Tony Award-winning actress, Victoria Clark (A Light in the Piazza, 2005–06), added an NYMF Outstanding Direction award to her regalia.   

Newton’s Cradle tells the story of Evan (Heath Saunders), a young man diagnosed with autism, yet bright and highly functional. He brings his girlfriend, Charlie (Rachel Kara Perez, Outstanding Individual Performance), to his parent’s cabin in Alaska to propose, but things didn’t go as smoothly as planned. Charlie’s uncertainty about marriage makes Evan look back at his past and reevaluate his principals.  

 The cast of 'Newton's Cradle." (Photo: Michael Kushner)

The cast of 'Newton's Cradle." (Photo: Michael Kushner)

Present and past overlap in Evan’s head, he confesses that this is how his mind works. Instead of a linear plot, we are presented with a tangle of memories, imaginary interactions and present day events. This structure, although confusing at times, is very engaging and allows for interesting overlap both in dialogue and staging. 

As characters enter the house, (minimalistic scenic design by Luke Hegel Cantarella), they remove their shoes, lining them up without distinguishing between “shoes from the past” and “shoes from the present day”. Often scenes overlap, different dialogues get mixed up, lines increase their frequency and reach a state of turmoil where it is impossible to distinguish individual words. Sometimes this cacophony evolves to a beautiful harmony, which gives the audience a wonderful sensation of untangling a tight knot. 

Although the structure of Newton’s Cradle is supposed to reflect how the brain of a special kid makes connections, the feeling of deep satisfaction when pieces of a puzzle fall into place is familiar to everybody. It is easy to relate to the struggle with labels which society and family put on you, trying to define your identity and determine your future. Maybe that’s why Newton’s Cradle feels so warm and personal. 

May be the reason behind the incredible warm-heartedness of the piece is the fact that the music, lyrics and book were created by the mother-and-son duo of Kim and Heath Saunders (NYMF award for Outstanding Lyrics). Another member of the family, Trent Saunders, won in the category of Outstanding Performance for the Supporting Role for his portrayal of Michael, the non-autistic brother of Evan. His layered performance demonstrated the difficult position of a “healthy” sibling, caring and attentive at times, angry and violent at others. 
Andrea Jones-Sojola singing the part of Audrey, mother of two boys, won in the category of Outstanding Performance for a Leading Role.  She perfectly captured the state of a frustrated and tired woman that is not giving up. Her pain and love for her kids is poured out in a beautiful and powerful number, “The Sun Will Newer Set”. The background screen brightens like a never fading Alaskan day, providing a simple backdrop for the beautiful performance of Jones-Sojola.