By Denee Stewart Freeman
The musicals of Nashville Children’s Theatre Summer Drama School continue with Emerging Artists production, Songs for a New World (July 26 and July 27 at 7 pm and July 28 at 2 pm).
Following last year’s The Music Man, twelve amazing fourteen to eighteen year-olds have been hard at work the past four weeks to bring this unique musical to life!
On working with the cast, director Alicia Fuss says, “The thing that’s cool about this intimate cast size is that you really get to know everyone and their individual learning journey and how you can support it. There’s an extra layer of tightly knit connection from the smaller ensemble.”
Another aspect of the joy in leading this summer's talented cast is how “they are exceptionally kind to each other,” says Fuss. “While they are talented and working really hard, they are also looking out for each other, and are incredibly supportive of each other.”
That culture of support is led by the creative team: Fuss as director, Shawn Knight as music director, and Mallory Mundy as choreographer. In addition to helping each student stretch their skills and learn through rehearsals and performances, this team has a history of creating successful, impressive musical.
Selected for the unique learning challenges it provides students, Songs of a New World is not a typical musical with characters and a specific story line. in one of the shows earliest reviews, the writer interprets the show: “Songs for a New World is that very rare beast: an abstract musical. There is no specific location other than the natural ambiguity of the human heart and mind.” (Mike Isaacson of the St. Louis Riverfront Times)
Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown, creator of other well-known musicals including The Last Five Years, 13, and Bridges of Madison County, Songs of a New World had its off Broadway run in 1995 and was revived in NY City Center’s 2018 Encores! Off-Center concert.
So what roots this “rare beast?” Brown himself describes the show as “about one moment. It’s about hitting the wall and having to make a choice… or take a stand… or turn around and go back.”
Filled with individual characters who are facing crucial, life-changing moments, the show still retains an ensemble base which is strengthened by Fuss and Knight’s decision to adapt some solos to group numbers. Balanced between solos, duets, and full cast performances, the show tells stories of individuals, but also expresses common struggles of human beings.
Brown’s quote has been essential in guiding the students through the biggest challenge the show presents to actors. “It’s all songs,” says Fuss, “so it requires students to put all of their acting skills into singing and movement instead of having spoken scenes or monologues they can use.” The absence of a linear narrative gives students the opportunity to strengthen their ability to find the thematic links that connect the characters and to enhance how the students convey those themes to the audience.
Fuss explains, “We did table work with the show to look at clues - especially in the opening number – given to us about what the show is about. Using Jason Robert Brown’s quote in rehearsal we went through each song saying ‘What are the moments like that in this story for this character? Who are these people? What is their ‘hitting the wall’ moment, and what do they do with that moment during the song?’" After a month of rehearsals mirroring the professional process and learning vital skills such as script analysis, these actors and their characters are more than ready for opening night.
You only have one weekend to see this special show that will leave audiences breathless! Performances are July 26th and 27th at 7 pm and July 28 at 2 pm at Nashville Children’s Theatre, 25 Middleton Street.
Call NCT’s box office at 615-252-4675 or visit nashvillect.org to purchase tickets.