Composer takes 'Songs for a New World' to local level
By Ben Hellman

The cast of Songs for a New World was seeing stars this week when the show's
composer and lyricist, Jason Robert Brown, stopped by its rehearsal. Brown,
whose new musical The Last Five Years is opening on Broadway this week,
seemed to like the idea of the musical he wrote being done on a community
level in Andover.

"One of the reasons I am in the theater is to send what I have out to the
world," he said. "It is very valuable to me."

Of the New York theater scene Brown said, "Everyone knows each other." He
said that to make an impression on worlds beyond New York is "Why I do what
I do. Why I got on the ride."

"I did a lot in college and music-directed for community theaters after
colleges," he said. Brown called community theater, "theater at its purist."

Brown, who is better known for writing the Tony Award-winning musical
Parade, spent more than two hours with the cast at Andover's Old Town Hall,
where the show performs this weekend. After watching the first act of the
show, Brown leaped right on stage with the cast and conducted numbers to
show the singers what he wanted and how they could rise to new vocal
heights. He then worked through each song giving coaching to each of the
show's young performers.

Eileen Parsons, an Andover High School student and one of the four leads,
was beside herself. "It's amazing talking to the composer because you can
ask him a question and he can answer you honestly," said Parsons.

"He's an awesome guy," said fellow cast member and Andover High School
student Martin Johnson. "His insights were wonderful."

Artistic director Dorrie-Lenore Parsons, also of Andover, called Brown's
visit "the opportunity of a lifetime." She said that her cast "could not
have been more focused (while working with Brown)." Parsons said that before
he left, Brown told the company that he was impressed with the progress the
cast had made with the show and applauded them for the choices they made.

Brown's visit was made a possibility because of his friendship and
association with Brian Nash, the Andover group's music director. Nash said
he first heard Songs for a New World five years ago and wrote to Brown to
express his appreciation of the work.

"I wrote to him before his songs got big," he said. The two have kept up
their communication and when Nash had an opportunity to music-direct the
show, he let Brown know about the production.

On Mondays, Brown is in Boston, where he teaches musical theater at Emerson

songs for a new world