Songs for a New World

By H.S. Wilson
Los Angeles Daily News Correspondent
Saturday, March 08, 2003

Mention songwriter Jason Robert Brown to nearly anyone in musical theater who has heard his work and he's considered Broadway's new wunderkind, and perhaps even savior, as Stephen Sondheim was proclaimed 40 years ago.

Brown's works to date might not have been hits (his Broadway debut, "Parade," was wide ly acclaimed when it opened in 1998, but its serious tale failed to find an audience and closed after only 84 performances), but at Chino Community Theatre, a group of singers hopes to spread the word of Brown's talents through their voices in a pro duction of his intimate Off- Broadway exercise, "Songs For A New World." The musical entertainment opens Thursday night with veteran opera singer and vocal teacher Roger Patterson along with his associate, Tom Kirkpatrick, directing.

In his "Explanation Note" for the show, Brown states that he wrote its 16 songs "in tiny apartments and at open calls and tech rehearsals." He put the songs together and eventually put it on stage where, according to Brown, "it sold about eight tickets and closed in three weeks."

But much to the composer's delight, a loyal following has grabbed onto Brown's "very personal little piece" and has held onto it as a sign of hope for the future of American musical theater as well as for themselves.

Patterson purchased the show's CD for his daughters and was immediately attracted to what he claims are the songs' "youth and energy." When the show was considered for CCT's season, Patterson jumped at the chance to direct it.

"Its message is fundamentally, we have a choice," Patterson said at a recent rehearsal. "It's about one moment, one second."

"Everybody in their life has that moment of epiphany," Kirkpatrick added, "when some thing changes in their life. It's about everything hinging on that one moment."

"Songs for a New World" is just as its title implies. There is no plot or story line. Kirkpatrick states that each of the songs, some somber, some comical, some uplifting, "stands by itself."

The cast of seven singers ranges in age from 17 to nobody's business. When each was asked which song affected them most, the answer was usually one they didn't necessarily sing but that, as with their director, they listened to and found a connection.

Julie Kirkpatrick of Upland, and Tom's wife, found the song, "Flying Home," a song dealing with the acceptance of death, as one that obviously "every single person can relate to in one way or another."

"You move into the song as the music gets your blood pumping. It's a spiritual song without being religious. It puts a strength inside your body." she said.

Eighteen-year-olds David Samson of Fullerton and Olivia Patterson (Roger's daughter) of Claremont both found similar connections with the song, "The Flagmaker, 1775," about a mother and wife singing for a son and husband going off to war.

"When I was 7 or 8, my father, a colonel in the Air Force, went to Desert Storm. I saw what my mother went through during that whole time. When you're young, you can't really see that, but now that I'm older and I'm listening to that song, I understand what it's about and what it's saying. It makes me have so much respect for those who serve in the armed forces," Samson explained.

Patterson found her similar connection more current.

"My brother-in-law is in the Navy and he's gone. We watch TV and the families watching them leave and I personally know that feeling. I know it's for my country but it still hurts and the song captures it very well."

Tess Jose, a 17 year old from Upland, finds through the song, "Christmas Lullaby," a feeling of hope "that we will go on, no matter what. It gives me a lot of hope for the future and it's a good feeling."

Chino resident Marian McCulley is a pastor's wife living in Chino. Through the song "A Spanish Sailing Ship, 1492," McCulley sees a lot of people "who are just weary because of war and rumors of war. That song to me is crying out to the Lord for help."

Local theater denizen Steve Williams of Phillips Ranch found, "Stars and the Moon," sung by Kirkpatrick as one of his favorites.

"It tells of life's regrets and what we could have done or should have done," Williams said, then added humbly, "and I like any song I sing."

Jeff Deards Jr. of Montclair, who has performed at CCT for 10 of his 18 years, connects with the show's title song partly for its significance of being his "epiphany" into Brown's work a year ago.

"It's the one song we all get to sing together and you can feel the energy. I enjoy the ensemble feeling. It has a camaraderie," Deards said.

Director Patterson feels everyone who sees the show will make their own connection of hope as they, in Brown's words, "hear my song -- It's the one thing I have that has never let me down -- Listen to the song that I sing and trust me -- We'll be fine."

songs for a new world