Fredonia Mainstage season concludes May 14, 15 with ‘Songs for a New World’

Doug Osborne-Coy
filmmakers and director on set

Filmmakers and director Jessica Hillman-McCord review a scene from “Songs for a New World” shot in front of the Lanford House.

The Department of Theatre and Dance will conclude its 2020-21 season with the virtual production of “Songs for a New World” on May 14 and 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Ticket prices are $10 for a single viewer and $20 for a household, plus ticketing fees. Tickets are available online. A video of the show will also be available to rent for a 48-hour period from May 16 to 22.

Written in 1995 by Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown (“Parade,” “Bridges of Madison County”), “Songs for a New World” is described as a “moving collection of powerful songs examines life, love and the choices that we make.”

According to Music Theatre International, “Songs for a New World” is a contemporary song cycle weaves characters and history together, illuminating the timelessness of self-discovery. Brown “transports his audience from the deck of a 1492 Spanish sailing ship to a ledge, 57 stories above Fifth Avenue, to meet a startling array of characters.”

Dr. Jessica Hillman-McCord, a professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance, is the director of the Fredonia production. She recently took the time to answer some questions and offer her insight to the production.

What makes “Songs for a New World” a compelling work? The title seems quite appropriate under the current circumstances.

It’s very of this moment, even though it was written years ago. It’s about moments where people’s lives suddenly change and, although that’s always relevant on some level, at this moment we’re in it feels extremely appropriate to explore these themes. This production very much grapples with our pandemic world — beginning in our empty theater with masks and coming full circle back to that image of our abandoned theatre, after taking trips to see a variety of characters experiencing moments of change.

What are some of the highlights of the Mainstage production?

This is a filmed and streamed version of a stage musical, which has allowed us to really take a  journey and explore. We have songs in the theater, but we also shot at locations all over campus, at state parks, in basements and in the snowy woods. It really opens up the world of the show and makes it fascinating to watch. There are two casts of nine - all amazing students, great singers and actors, who are able to explore these really great character songs. Musically, it’s an extremely difficult score, but also beautiful and moving music. The students are doing an amazing job. Our musical director James Welch had the monumental task of teaching, conducting the pit orchestra, recording these songs in a studio format and then mixing the whole thing together. Twice! Our student crew and camera/editing team has also been putting in huge amounts of work.

What do you hope the students will gain from this experience?

They are essentially making a full-length movie musical. This is very different from the kind of work we usually do in the live theatre. They’ve had to learn recording techniques and how to sing along to their tracks when acting, a very challenging process. They’ve had to pitch their performances to the camera, rather than to a full house. It’s a huge undertaking, and much of it is brand new, and they’ve all risen beautifully to the challenges. The resilience of our theatre community in the pandemic has been beautiful. Instead of giving in to the decimation of our art, we’ve shifted and changed and met the challenges of the moment. Which exactly parallels the themes of this show.

What do you hope viewers will take away from this production?

I hope they’ll appreciate the work and dedication that have gone into making art in the pandemic. We hope they’ll be moved by the music and the stories this show tells. We hope they’ll see the resilience of our community, both locally in the Fredonia Department of Theatre and Dance, and the larger theatre community. They’ll see that what we have to offer isn’t going away, and that we can adapt to changing circumstances and whatever sudden changes the world has to throw at us!

In addition to two casts, Dr. Hillman-McCord noted there are also two sets of filmmakers. The May 14 stream features one set of cast and filmmakers the May 15 stream features the other, so each offers a unique experience. The cast list can be found in the online program or in the event description on Showtix4u.


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