Singing the praises of an exceptional new talent

Singing the praises of an exceptional new talent
Dan (Brian Sutherland) and Jenna (Diane Sutherland) share a toast in “A Second Chance,” playing through December 11 at Signature Theatre. (Christopher Mueller)

Not only is this delicious show a world premiere, but it also marks the auspicious debut of a new talent, Ted Shen, a businessman and arts patron who might better qualify for full retirement.

That he is celebrating the opening of his first show as writer, composer and lyricist is rather astounding. Well, unless you notice he is a Taiwanese financier educated at the posh Phillips Exeter Academy and Yale University. In his spare time, Shen serves as foundation president and board member for Yale University and the Art Commission of the City of New York.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Dan (Brian Sutherland) and Jenna (Diane Sutherland) embrace in "A Second Chance." (Christopher Mueller)

Shen’s foundation also has provided funding support for major productions by Stephen Sondheim, who happens to be his musical theater hero. But whatever his curriculum vitae or his tony connections, his breakthrough musical, “A Second Chance,” can more than stand on its own two legs.

Billed as a lyrical duet, the musical is a modern love affair as much for its characters as its audience. Two top-drawer Broadway stars, Brian and Diane Sutherland, sing rather than speak their parts. Both have the most exquisitely controlled, pitch-perfect voices to gently express the emotional dynamics of a budding relationship.

Jenna, coming off a divorce, gives voice to her demons in “Damaged Goods.”  She is broken and unsure of their new love, especially since Dan is a recent widower and photos of his late wife fill his apartment. Dan is still communicating telepathically with his dearly departed, seeking approval to pursue his new life and love of Jenna. In an effort to break with the past he sings, “Tell Me When.”

A simple stage set with clear Plexiglas chairs and tables allow the audience to mesh with each scene change while following the progression of the mid-life couple’s personal evolution. Projected black-and-white photos of New York’s Central Park, his brownstone and her therapist’s office afford a simple sense of place. And that’s enough, because it’s all about the music here — lush atmospheric songs by an astonishing songwriter whose elegant styling borrows from the Sondheim tradition with shades of Judy Collins and “The Fantasticks.”

Top-notch musicians capture the mood for a New York evening as familiar as a martini served straight up while basking at The Oak Room at The Plaza.

“A Second Chance” is enchantingly sophisticated and emotionally aware.

“A Second Chance” runs through December 11 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, the Shirlington neighborhood. For tickets and information call 703-820-9771 or visit