Songs for a New World
Published in The Dallas Morning News: 05.11.00

About the event

A young director for a young play: Plano Repertory Theatre has entrusted the
Texas premiere of "Songs for a New World" to apprentice James Paul Lemons.

"Songs" was written by Jason Robert Brown, who won a Tony Award in 1999 for
"Parade." But like most Broadway newcomers, Mr. Brown had to suffer
rejection before winning over audiences.

"When he got to New York, he was in his 20s, and he couldn't get any of his
work seen,'' says Mr. Lemons. "He pulled together 16 songs from his
repertoire to get his name out there. The show was so successful he kept it
as it was.''

"Songs for a New World" features four actors ­ Jennifer Freeman, Donald
Fowler, Christopher Hanke and Amy Stevenson ­ who sing solos, duets and
ensemble pieces. The actors wear dark outfits with color overlays and add
different colors to give their continually changing characters a different

Without a definite plot or steady characters, "Songs" could feel like a
patchwork production, but Mr. Lemons says the unifying theme of the songs
holds the show together.

"The songs are about the point in your life when you're forced to make a
decision, what that moment means for us as individuals and what happens with
it,'' he says.

"I'm Not Afraid'' is one such song, performed by Ms. Freeman. "[It's about]
a woman in a marriage with children who feels the marriage isn't what she
always wanted,'' says Mr. Lemons. "Does she stick it out? Is it just a
phase? Or does she leave her husband and children? It's about how she reacts
to the decision she's made.''

Mr. Lemons says the emotional core of the show is a pair of songs. "The
Flagmaker'' features Ms. Stevenson as a woman sewing a flag for the men in
her family off at war. It's followed by "Flying Home,'' sung by Mr. Hanke as
a dead soldier who's preparing to cross into the afterlife saying goodbye to
the people he left behind.

"A lot of songs have to do with an American theme,'' says Mr. Lemons. "They
result from a lot of problems Americans face ­ success, family issues, money
­ more money issues instead of emotional values.''

Mr. Lemons, 22, studied theater at Midwestern State University in Wichita
Falls and began his one-year apprenticeship with the Plano group last
August. He has already been assistant director on two productions.

Though he has never seen "Songs for a New World" performed, Mr. Lemons has
researched previous productions, including one in which each song was
performed by a different vocalist.

"I think it's important to keep the four [singers] because it shows the
skill of the actor and it's important to see them performing all these walks
of life.''

Setting the Texas premiere apart is the inclusion of two dancers.
Mary-Margaret Pyeatt and K. Osiris Wade perform original choreography by
Zachary Stefaniak in several numbers.

"We use them just to highlight songs,'' Mr. Lemons says. "It gives me two
extra bodies to play with on stage for composition and painting pictures.''

The stage has an urban industrial look with bricks and steel girders. The
actors and dancers are joined on stage by a five-piece band directed by Mark

"It's a big responsibility coming from a theater that I've only worked at
for six months,'' says Mr. Lemons. "But I'm lucky because I have a
tremendous cast and production crew, so I rely on them a lot.''

songs for a new world