We spoke to MD Ben Heels about Dandenong Theatre Company's latest musical offering, Songs for a New World, opening tonight!
TP: What is Songs for a New World all about?
BH: Songs is about all different people for all different walks of life who are struggling to find their way into their own 'new world,' whether it's motherhood, a physical journey, or something else, or have already found their way there. Their new world could be general happiness or some ultimate goal that they wish to achieve in their life.
TP: Considering Songs is a concept musical, have you used a central theme to tie the piece together?
BH: We used the overall colour scheme of a sunrise to tie the whole show together and book-end the show. It feels a bit like "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler with a strong emphasis on life cycles.
TP: JRB had his own ideas for what each song meant, how have you gone about attaching meaning to the songs?
BH: We tried to break tradition with how Songs is usually set and tried to match songs with those members of the cast who could personally identify with the lyric content – no matter their gender. We did this through a group discussion in the early stages of rehearsals. I asked every member of the cast to tell us their darkest story that had affected them most and that they still carry around with them and makes them cry to this day, and also their happiest moment – that peak of their life so far. So we all know each other's happiest moments plus their 'how the hell am I going to get our of this' moments, which is a really central idea of the show.
Although some songs may not relate exactly to the performers' experiences [JRB's own intentions were pretty specific – Ed.] through discussion we have been able to find personal moments for each performer that can be experienced within their songs. "Christmas Lullaby" was an easy one as Marissa [Carlos] is a mother but some of the other songs were more difficult.
We also haven't got an ensemble as such – in our show everyone is a lead. We have nine cast members (not the original four) and we wanted to have more people because it's such a juicy show with such big songs that it would be hard to find a Man 1, for example, who could personally portray every song to its full capacity. By using a larger cast the songs still have their full effect and we have managed to give every song a stronger emotional background than could potentially be possible with only four cast as every cast member has a uniquely personal connection to every one of their songs.
We've only got two guys in the shows and that has meant that some male songs are now being sung by females. Personally I wasn't sure how "Steam Train" would tie together with a female singer but it's worked out really well.
"River Won't Flow" has a guy and girl singing it and it doesn't take away from the song at all. Amara [Jensen] has a powerful, sassy voice that really sits into the character and Leighton [Irwin] and Amara play off each other really well. It's just two people with the same story that they're both telling to audience.
TP: How are you feeling overall and what are you most excited about?
BH: I'm really excited about the tight band and the cast have all grown massively from when we started rehearsals. At the start some cast said "I can't act, I'm just here to sing," but watching them on stage now they really can act as well as sing and either just didn't realise it or could actually act all along.
Following a successful preview yesterday, Songs for a New World opens tonight at the Cranbourne Community Theatre, Brunt St Cranbourne. Click here for full info.