Songs for a New World

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Songs for a New World
Songs for a New World CD Cover.jpg
World Premiere Recording
MusicJason Robert Brown
LyricsJason Robert Brown
Productions1995 Off-Broadway
1998 St. Louis, MO
2018 Encores! Off-Center Concert

Songs for a New World is a work of musical theatre written and composed by Jason Robert Brown. This was Jason Robert Brown's first produced show, originally produced Off-Broadway at the WPA Theatre in 1995.

Brown and director Daisy Prince put together songs he had written for other venues and events, resulting in "neither musical play nor revue, it is closer to a theatrical song cycle, a very theatrical song cycle."[1]


The show lies between musical and song cycle, but it is neither; it is an abstract musical, a series of songs all connected by a theme: "the moment of decision."[1] The show has four performers who do not literally play the same characters throughout the show but who do have consistently developing character arcs nonetheless. Composer Brown has said "It's about one moment. It's about hitting the wall and having to make a choice, or take a stand, or turn around and go back."[2]

A workshop of the show was produced in Toronto. The original Off-Broadway production ran for a limited three and 1/2-week run, which included two 1/2 weeks of previews[3] at the WPA Theatre in 1995. The original cast consisted of Brooks Ashmanskas, Andréa Burns, Jessica Molaskey and Billy Porter (due to contractual obligations, Porter was replaced by Ty Taylor on the original cast recording), with direction by Daisy Prince.[4] The original band consisted of Jason Robert Brown on piano, Randy Landau on bass, Tom Partington on drums, Joe Reina on keyboards, and Warren Smith and Rob McEwan on percussion. The first regional production was mounted by New Line Theatre in St. Louis in 1998.

The piano features heavily throughout the show's music and because of its small cast and orchestra, Songs for a New World has become a favorite small show for colleges and local theatres, despite its vocally demanding score. The music of Songs for a New World is heavily influenced by a broad range of musical genres, including pop, gospel and jazz. Many of the songs combine elements of two or more of these genres.

An extensive background and analysis essay about the show was written by Scott Miller.[5] The Variety reviewer noted: "His debut foray into his own spotlight comes with 'Songs for a New World,' a musical revue that shows Brown to be a capable songwriter of the Alan Menken school: commercial show-tune pop with palatable sentiment and easy-to-take melody.... 'Songs for a New World' seems to contain more cabaret convention and pianobar posing than any one revue should have to withstand."[3]

The first professional revival in New York was staged in October 2008 at the Chernuchin Theatre, featuring a 14-member youth ensemble in addition to the four principal performers; it was directed by Debbie Slevin.[6]

The show continues to be popular among amateur theatre groups with performances across Australia, the USA and the UK. In 2013, the show premiered in Paris, France.[7]

The score was recorded in 1996 by RCA and released in March 1997.[2]

A special Encores! Off-Center staged concert of Songs for a New World was performed at New York City Center June 27 through June 30, 2018. The production was directed by Kate Whoriskey and starred Shoshana Bean, Colin Donnell, Mykal Kilgore and Solea Pfeiffer.[8]

Musical numbers[edit]

Act I
  • "Opening Sequence: The New World" – Company

The company sings of the evening's central theme: that even when everything seems stable and certain, there is "one moment" that can upend and change anyone's life.

  • "On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship, 1492" – Man 1 and Company

On the voyage to an undiscovered country, a ship's Captain prays for the safety of the souls aboard his ship.

  • "Just One Step" – Woman 2

A wealthy wife climbs out onto the window ledge of her 57th-story apartment in an attempt to get her neglectful husband's attention.

  • "I'm Not Afraid of Anything" – Woman 1

A young woman reflects on the fears of the people she loves, and comes to realize how they have held her back.

  • "The River Won't Flow" – Man 1, Man 2, Company

A pair of derelicts swap stories of woe and ill luck, concluding that for some, bad luck is just fate.

  • "Transition I" – Woman 1
  • "Stars and the Moon" – Woman 2

Recounting the stories of two poor suitors and the rich man she eventually marries, a woman comes to realize what she has sacrificed in exchange for wealth and comfort.

  • "She Cries" – Man 2

A man describes the power the woman he is in love with holds over him.

  • "The Steam Train" – Man 1 and Company

A teenager from a poor neighborhood in New York boasts of his future as a basketball star. His bravado is undercut with a spoken monologue revealing the disadvantages he is determined to overcome.

Act II
  • "The World Was Dancing" – Man 2, Woman 1 and Company

A man tells the story of how his father bought, then lost, a store, and how the experience influenced his decision to leave his fiancée.

  • "Surabaya-Santa" – Woman 2

In a parody of the Kurt Weill torch song, Surabaya Johnny, Mrs. Claus sings a scornful, teutonic kiss-off to her neglectful husband.

  • "Christmas Lullaby" – Woman 1

A woman reacts with wonder and joy to the discovery of her pregnancy, comparing herself to The Virgin Mary.

  • "King of the World" – Man 1

A man in some form of prison, either literal or metaphorical, demands that he be freed and returned to his rightful place as a leader of men.

  • "I'd Give It All for You" – Man 2 and Woman 1

A pair of former lovers reunite after attempting to live without each other.

  • "Transition II" – Man 1
  • "The Flagmaker, 1775" – Woman 2

A woman, whose husband and son are fighting in the Revolutionary War sews a flag while attempting to keep her hope alive and her house standing.

  • "Flying Home" – Man 1 and Company

A soldier, who has died in battle, sings as his body is flown home to his mother and he crosses over to another life.

  • "Final Transition: The New World" – Company
  • "Hear My Song" – Company

The company, as if singing a lullaby to a child, express their hope that they have gained by experiencing hardship and how they have gained strength from each other.


  1. ^ a b " 'Songs for a New World' Storyline and Musical Numbers", accessed April 2, 2012
  2. ^ a b ' 'Songs For A New World' Recording with Liner notes", accessed April 2, 2012
  3. ^ a b Evans, Greg. "Songs For A New World", Variety, November 6, 1995 - November 12, 1995, p. 79
  4. ^ "'Songs for a New World' Listing" Archived 2015-10-01 at the Wayback Machine. Internet Off-Broadway Database, accessed April 2, 2012
  5. ^ Miller, Scott (1998-11-01). "Inside Songs for a New World". New Line Theatre. Retrieved 2008-08-04.
  6. ^ La Gorce, Tammy. "First, a Fan of a Show. Now, She's Producing It", The New York Times, October 19, 2008, Section NJ, p. 10
  7. ^ Pirolli, Bryan. "Songs for a New World". Time Out Paris. Retrieved October 3, 2013.
  8. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Watch Shoshana Bean Sing "Stars and the Moon" From 'Songs for a New World' " Playbill, June 19, 2018


  • Miller, Scott. Rebels With Applause (Heinemann, 2001)
  • operetta

External links[edit]