By Jessica Derschowitz
January 23, 2019 at 09:30 AM EST
Joan Marcus

Get ready to hear a whole new Songs For a New World.

Jason Robert Brown’s beloved song cycle received a fantastic new staging at New York City Center last summer, an all-too-short, four-night run that has been preserved for our listening pleasure — the first new recording since its world premiere more than two decades ago. Ahead of its release on Friday, EW has your first listen to the new album in its entirety right here.

Songs first premiered Off Broadway in 1995 with a cast that included Billy Porter, Andréa Burns, Jessica Molaskey, and Brooks Ashmanskas. That cast album is treasured by many a theater fan, but this incarnation features brand-new orchestrations from Brown and the impressive voices of Shoshana Bean, Colin Donnell, Solea Pfeiffer, and Mykal Kilgore, who received rave reviews for the City Center performances.

As Brown told EW in a statement, this new foursome and revamped musical arrangements brought new perspectives and depth to the musical’s songs.

“If you’re lucky as a writer, the things you write continue to have resonance long after you first put them out into the world,” he said. “One of the wonderful things about writing for the theater is that every performance of the piece moves it further along in the world, connects it to the current moment, dusts it off and polishes it up. A show as abstract as Songs for a New World is even more susceptible to that kind of re-contextualization than a more straightforward, plot-driven musical would be, and so it has been fascinating and thrilling to watch actors and musicians and audiences discover the show over these past 23 years and mold it to the moment that they’re in. While very little of the text or the score has actually been altered, Songs for a New World feels like a vastly different piece than it was when we premiered it in 1995, and I think this new recording captures that beautifully — these four dynamic young actors all bring their lives, their stories to bear on these songs, and they birth this show into a world that is suffused not with what naively seemed like the optimism of the Clinton years but with the divisiveness and fear of our present day. The show still feels like the work of a 25-year-old, but maybe not the same one I was when I wrote it — a little less sheltered, a little more overwhelmed.”

Brown continued, “Aside from the astonishing singers, the main audible difference between this recording and my much-loved previous version from two decades ago is the orchestrations, entirely rewritten for this production for a larger (and synthesizer-free) band. That emphasis on acoustic musical instruments, including a string quartet, is perhaps the primary aesthetic shift I’ve made since I wrote the show; I simply prefer the sound of musicians communicating with each other to the sound of machines attempting to imitate other instruments. Additionally, the stage at City Center was so much larger than our original stage at the WPA Theatre that it was almost essential to enlarge the musical forces to fill the space! (Bear in mind: the original production in 1995 played a theater with fewer than 100 seats; in the summer of 2018 we played for audiences of 2,700 – it is likely that more people saw our first performance at City Center than saw the entire original run at the WPA.)

All of which is to say: It’s a New World for a new world. Every note and word feels revitalized, and more urgent than ever.”

Listen to the new recording of Songs For a New World below. The album will be available as a two-CD set, as well as via streaming and digital platforms, from Ghostlight Records starting Friday.

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