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Schoolhouse Theater begins 2010-11 season with ‘Songs for a New World’

By Staff | Oct 6, 2010

Joe Donnelly, Michael Fisher, Erin Edelle and Mara Jill Herman rehearse the score from “Songs for a New World.”

Everybody take your seats — the Schoolhouse is officially in session!

Beginning Tuesday, Oct. 14, The Herb Strauss Schoolhouse Theater will kick off the 2010-11 season with the island premier of “Songs for a New World,” a vocally-energetic, concept-driven production that features a cast of four talented singers.

“Songs for a New World,” which debuted in New York City in 1995, is not a typical stage musical — there is no discernible plot, no dialogue, no particular setting and no consistent cast of characters.

“It’s not your traditional ‘book musical,'” said cast member Erin Edelle. “Composer Jason Robert Brown has created a song cycle of separate pieces that explore universal themes of life, love, loss, growth, compassion and understanding — to name a few. Not to mention that it is a soaring, poignant score that is nearly impossible to walk away from without humming a tune or two.”

Galloway Stevens, who is directing “Songs for a New World” for the Schoolhouse, called the show a concept piece made up of short stories that invite the audience to look in on people — everyone from Christopher Columbus to completely anonymous characters — who have reached a crossroad in their life.

Schoolhouse Music Director Justin P. Cowan.

“I think people will identify with the show because it deals intimately and sincerely with problems we all face in our lifetime. And if we don’t specifically face every issue, it is almost certain that someone we love does. I think this show has a personal connection that many others lack,” Stevens said.

“Songs for a New World” cast member Mara Jill Herman said that the show affords the audience an opportunity to accompany each character on their journey beyond the crossroad and into their “new world.” As a performer — and a huge fan of the show — Herman also sees her participation in “Songs for a New World” as an opportunity to explore the show in new and different ways.

“The score is thrilling. It’s melodic and peppy at times and then soulful and dissonant at others. It was wildly popular in the musical theater world when it first came out and, as an actor, it’s a joy for me to make new discoveries in this music that I overlooked when I first heard it years ago.”

Stevens, who’s also been an avid fan of “Songs for a New World” for a long time, said the music featured in the show is, just like the concept, unlike any other show in the world of musical theater.

“Brown uses themes within his melodic and rhythmic structure that really flow well and tie the various stories together in a common orchestral theme. The lyrics are frank and catchy. I think audiences will have no problem following along even if they aren’t familiar with the show,” Stevens said. “I’m so pleased that I was asked to be a part of this project! Putting a show of this style together takes an imaginative and creative team — and I’m proud to be at the helm of such a team. We have a lot of artistic freedom at our finger tips with this show, and I look forward to seeing what it produces in the performances, on stage and off.”

Joe Donnelly, Michael Fisher, Erin Edelle and Mara Jill Herman rehearse the score from “Songs for a New World.”

And the cast — which includes Joe Donnelly and Michael Fisher, with musical direction by Justin P. Cowan — is definitely looking forward to introducing islanders to “Songs for a New World.”

“I’m very excited to be a part of this production. The chance to sing this score is reason enough, but then the added bonus of doing it on this gorgeous island — who wouldn’t be excited about that?” Edelle said.

Herman agreed.

“I am happy to kick-start the season for The Schoolhouse. I’ve never been to Sanibel Island before and have heard wonderful things. It’s a new beginning for me in more than one way!”

“Songs for a New World” will be the first production for the Herb Strauss Schoolhouse Theater as part of the BIG ARTS family of programs and productions, a merge that occurred in April.

“This is going to be an amazing start to the season,” Stevens said. “I think the audience will welcome a show with such vocal power. The Schoolhouse is undergoing some slight changes and is heading toward new beginnings, so I think it fitting that this would be the show to represent a new journey for the theater and the island.”

“Songs for a New World,” sponsored by Ellington’s Jazz Bar and Restaurant, will run at 8 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, Oct. 14 to Nov. 6. A reception will be held on opening night at 7 p.m.

For tickets — $30 and $20 for children 16 and under — call the Herb Strauss Schoolhouse Theater at 472-6862.

The Herb Strauss Schoolhouse Theater is located at 2200 Periwinkle Way.