As Annapolis Summer Garden Theater prepares to open its second show of the 2019 season, we took a moment to pick the brain of director Jason Beall and get his thoughts on the production. Here’s what he had to share with us.
“Songs for a New World” is somewhat of a lesser known gem among theater fans. Tell us a little bit more about this show and what audiences can expect?
Beall: The show is not quite musical, not quite song cycle. There is no dialogue or clear plot, but each song is about the moment of choice. These characters are at a crossroads and must decide which way to turn. It is the first piece of theater for Jason Robert Brown, best known for "Parade" and "The Last Five Years." The songs are dynamic and the cast breathes new life into them; they feel just as fresh now as they did 25 years ago. We also have a live band onstage with the actors and they are out of this world.
What makes this an exciting project for you to direct, and how are you making ASGT’s production of the show unique?
Beall: I have been passionate about this show for a long time. I performed in it at Towson University, and it has been thrilling to return to the piece 10 years later. What I love about it is that each song is a story, and although we only get snapshots of these characters, they are all relatable. My hope is that the audience will see a bit of themselves in the characters and their unique journeys.
As far as making our show unique, the production team has embraced the abstract nature of the show. The set is angular and incorporates fabric and multiple levels. All of these pieces are suggestive of different settings in the musical. We have also created a unifying costume plot while giving each actor a distinct accent piece during their solo. I feel fortunate to have a strong design team that is onboard with the vision. Another unique aspect is that ASGT is an outdoor venue. The show feels like it was meant to be performed outside, as it contains many references to nature.
I hear the audience can expect some face melting vocals. For the non-vocalists, what does that mean, and how will we see it in this show?
Beall: Yes! They absolutely will. I think this phrase was coined by our exceptional production manager, Heather McMunigal. The songs are challenging, but this cast has risen to the challenge. We have a cast of six vocal musicians. By this, I mean that they are incredible vocalists who add nuance to each number. The exquisite singing, but also the passion and commitment of these performers, will blow audiences away.
Have there been any big challenges throughout the rehearsal process that you have had to overcome?
Beall: This has been quite an artist challenge, which has made it thrilling to direct. I teach high school theater and have directed mostly classics, including “The Music Man” and “The Sound of Music.” With the abstract nature of "Songs for a New World," it has been challenging to bring out the narrative and find ways to connect the characters. Thanks to our brilliant design team, and a great deal of character work, we have done this quite well. Have we overcome the challenge? I'm not sure that's possible with this piece of theater. (And perhaps that's the underlying message – we all face challenges and difficult choices, we may not overcome them, but we learn and grow, and we'll be OK.)
How can people go about learning more about the show and ordering tickets?
Beall: Visit www.summergarden.com/show/songs-for-a-new-world/ for more details, including the link to purchase tickets. The show runs June 27-July 20; don't miss it!