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JCCT's 'Songs for a New World' offers musical message of hope

staff report • Aug 10, 2011 at 3:58 AM

With the country drowning in debt, sweltering under the scorching summer sun and struggling to break free from a growing sense of dread, Americans could sure use a little cheering up. Johnson City Community Theatre hopes to do its part with the Friday opening of “Songs for a New World,” playing weekends, Aug. 12-21, at the theater, located at 600 E. Maple St., in downtown Johnson City. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m., and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. “All in all it’s a very uplifting, positive show, a very American show,” said music director Kaeli Gardner, who’s been a fan of Jason Robert Brown’s musical revue since hearing the cast album after the show’s Off-Broadway debut in 1995. “If you come, you will be touched.” Brown transports audiences from the deck of a 1492 Spanish sailing ship to a ledge 57 stories above Fifth Avenue to meet a startling array of characters who have just made a life-changing decision — from a young man who has determined that basketball is his ticket out of the ghetto to a woman whose dream of marrying rich nabs her the man of her dreams and a soulless marriage — in this musical revue that’s more theme than plot. “ ‘Songs for a New World’ is a song cycle, so there isn’t one story from beginning to end,” Gardner said. “All of the songs sort of stand on their own. The way that the composer puts it, it’s about one moment, it’s about people who have made a decision — sometimes a big decision, sometimes it seems like a small decision — that changes everything. “This is from the deck of a Spanish ship in 1492 when the master and commander of that ship decides not to turn around and go back home, all the way up to the ledge of the 42nd floor of a building in New York City where a woman is thinking about jumping. Some of the songs are funny, some of them are serious, some of them are high-energy and some of them are ballady, but they all share the trait that they’re about the moment that changed everything.” Bringing those songs to life are a number of familiar faces in regional musical theatre, including Chris Broadhead, Emily Broadhead, Rocky Cooper, Hunter Graybeal, Becky Harris, Rachel Helvey, Jon Luttrell, Hannah Miller, Richard Nave and Deanna Smith. The show is directed by April Gardner, with accompaniment by Dishon Smith. “This is tough music — it’s not easy music at all,” Gardner said. “I compare Jason Robert Brown to Gershwin, who was a major influence on him. His music is very jazzy. Our accompanist has joked many times about the fact that he seems incapable of writing things on the beat. So the cast is wonderful, they’re all very savvy with this thing. It just doesn’t seem to matter what I throw at them.” JCCT’s production of “Songs for a New World” is dedicated to all the men and women serving in the armed forces and to their family members. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. For reservations or more information, visit www.jcct.us or call (423) 926-2542.

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