Following a successful season at Melbourne’s Chapel Off Chapel, Blue Saint Productions has bought Songs for a new world to Sydney’s Hayes Theatre, in a rare opportunity for Australian theatregoers to see the work performed professionally.
With music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, the piece is a series of songs all linked by one theme – the moment of decision.
“Everyone has a different understanding of how they see Songs for a new world,” says cast member Christopher Scalzo.
“I see Songs for a new world sitting halfway between what would be a traditional musical and a song cycle, in that there is no rudimentary throughline of a story or character development, but there is a thematic similarity in each of the songs. Essentially, it’s a series of songs that are linked to each other in the sense that it is some person at some point in their life facing a moment of decision, a moment of discovery, a moment of growth – some little moment in their life that shoves them down a different path or halts them on the path they thought they might have been on.”
Scalzo’s co-star, Cameron MacDonald, says, “A lot of these characters are facing really pivotal decisions or are standing at a crossroads and are faced with going one way or the other in their lives… Within that, there are wonderful character pieces one after the other.
“I think each of the four actors in this production has a big challenge ahead of them as far as locking in on all these characters.”
Both MacDonald and Scalzo have joined the cast for its Sydney season, and spoke to Theatre People just prior to beginning rehearsals for the run. Both actors had the chance to see the work performed during its Melbourne engagement.
“I went along on opening night in Melbourne and I really loved it,” MacDonald says. “I thought it was a really cool interpretation of the show, which can obviously go a million different ways being a song cycle and being the kind of show that can have as many cast members as the director sees fit.
“I’ve seen quite a few adaptations over the years, but I thought this one was really clever, and I’m excited to get cracking on it.”
MacDonald’s familiarity with Songs for a new world dates back to his earliest days as a performer.
“The cast recording played a big part in my childhood and through my teens. I remember us doing the opening number at Centrestage [Performing Arts School in Brunswick]… as part of a singing concert that we did. And it was just such exciting music. It was my first experience of Jason Robert Brown. I think, for young people, he’s a really important writer… And having since been in a production of Parade, I think I really do enjoy singing Jason’s music.”
Scalzo attended the Melbourne opening to support close friend, John O’Hara, who played the same role Scalzo is taking on in Sydney.
“I thought it was beautiful,” Scalzo says. “I thought it was gentle and fragile and heartbreaking, and a really wonderful representation of the material. The audience around me was very moved by each of the individual stories as they came to life, and I think that’s a testament to the strength of the actors.”
MacDonald is excited to be working with the team assembled for Songs for a new world.
“I’ve been an admirer of Blue Saint for a long time,” he says. “Doing a season of a show at The Hayes is something I’ve been looking to tick off for a long time. There’s such wonderful excitement about that venue.”
MacDonald is also excited to work with Luke Joslin, a fellow actor he’s been working alongside of late in the Australian premiere production of Georgy Girl.
“I’m just excited to step into the room with him when he puts the director’s hat on,” says MacDonald. “And then alongside that, it’s a really lovely cast.”
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of bringing the lyrics and the music to life in the best way that I know that I can as the type of actor that I am,” Scalzo says.
“I’m excited to find a way to use what I can to make the songs come to life for a new audience. I’m excited to listen to and watch the other members of the cast develop their material because they’ve all got extraordinarily beautiful, contemporary voices that I’ve admired for years… The chance to sing together, I don’t take that for granted.”
So, why should Sydneysiders head down to The Hayes to see this show, particularly those unfamiliar with this work?
“I think there’ll be a lot of people out there who love Jason Robert Brown, and this is just the chance to see some of his more beautiful pieces up close in a beautiful intimate venue and handled by really wonderful artists.,” MacDonald says. “And that was what I took away when I went to see this in Melbourne – I thought it was a really terrific version, but that ultimately, it was stripped back and was about the storytelling of four artists and the beautiful melodies of Jason Robert Brown.”
SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 28 August
Times: Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm, Sunday at 1pm and 6pm
Tickets*: Adult $59, Concession $54, Group $49 (for 8+)
Bookings: www.hayestheatre.com.au or (02) 8065 7337
*not including booking fees
Running time 1 Hour 40 Minutes (inc. interval)