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Moving music
Genesys Theater’s take of Songs for a New World

08/20/15
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



 Songs for a New World doesn’t have a standard storyline. It features plain costumes, minimal sets and basic special effects. Between songs, dialogue is non-existent.

To an outsider, the play most resembles a cabaret, except it’s not at all like a cabaret, say members of Genesys Theater, the new performing arts company putting the show on this weekend. In a cabaret, singers are performing strictly to the audience and each song is a standalone. 
In Songs for a New World by Jason Robert Brown, all the music works together. The songs’ commonality: they feature specific, pivotal moments in a person’s life that can change everything. 
“[Brown’s] writing is a lot different from a lot of musical theater. In this show in particular — though I love musicals that have a written dialogue — the amazing thing about this one is that it has to tell its whole story with nothing but music,” Musical Director Heather MacRobie said between rehearsals last week at the YMCA in Merrimack.
The effect, she said, is subtle but moving. The first time she heard a song from the play was at a Factory 57 revue about 10 years ago. Barbara Lawler (also in this rendition) had performed “Stars and the Moon,” about a woman looking back at her past suitors, realizing she’s sacrificed love for money.
“I was really taken by it, and kind of on the edge of my seat when I first heard it,” MacRobie said. “Because that’s a lot of women’s debates, especially when they’re younger. Do I want the artistic guy or do I want the accountant with the big house? So that was one of the songs that’s really always spoken to me. … But I feel that [the musical] is more open to interpretation. It’s more subtle, but therefore more universal.”
This production, which happens at the Janice B. Streeter Theater, is spearheaded by company founders Rick Brooks and Tom and Deb Ritrovato, who met one another years ago at an Edmund Keefe Auditorium play. It’s not their first Genesys project; a few years back, they put on an alternative rock musical in Nashua. Activity after that was nil.
“We just never did anything,” Brooks said. “Finally, this spring we said, ‘Let’s just do it!’ I got dates at the theater. I got the rights. And we got a great cast to come audition.”
Which is half the battle, particularly for a music-heavy show like this; last year, Genesys Theater attempted to produce Bat Boy: The Musical, but they were unable to cast all parts.
“So we just said fine, we’re not going to do it, because we didn’t want to put people in roles they weren’t good for,” Brooks said.
Cast members include Mia Berardi, Erica McIntyre, Lawler, Huey Paul Gauthier Jr., Brad Fernald and Stuart Harmon. Though there’s less emphasis on things like blocking or memorizing lines, Berardi said the difficulty of the music makes up for it, from its intricate harmonies to its challenging rhythms.
Though there is no single overarching storyline, each song tells an individual story. In one, a wealthy wife climbs out onto the window ledge of her 57th-story apartment to get her neglectful husband’s attention. In another, a woman reacts with wonder and joy at the discovery of her pregnancy, and in another, a dead soldier sings as his body is flown home.
Accompanying the singers will be a band (two keyboards, drums and bass) and effects courtesy of Brooks, with a “big old sound system,” dry ice and lots of lights. He hopes this will be the first of many productions this season.
Songs for a New World marks Tom Ritrovato’s directorial debut; a behind-the-scenes guy for years and years, he had always said he’s just not the director type.
“But I did always say that if there’s one show I want to direct, this is the show,” Tom Ritrovato said. “When I first heard about it, it just captivated me. It’s not a book show. … It’s a collection of songs. … You can stage it almost any way you want because you’re not confined to ‘you have to tell the story this way.’” 
 
As seen in the August 20th 2015 issue of the Hippo. 





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