“Songs for A New World,” Gateway’s inaugural 2021 season musical (July 14-31), began brewing last summer, said Michael Baker Gateway’s Acting School Director and Associate Artistic Director. Baker is also assistant director with Danny Loftus George on this show.
Alyssa Wray, the 19-year-old American Idol star, who soared to the Top 9th spot, is in the production. Wray’s singing is riveting. Her voice was described as “elegant and elevated” by Kate Perry.
One thing’s for sure. The musical is appropriate to the times: It is a new world, especially after a nail-biting year.
“This musical came up and we began introducing it to staff,” Baker said of 2020 when performances were paused. “And I worked with Danny in other capacities.” Baker met George as a former performer and Gateway casting director and was asked to teach musical theater songs at George’s The Growing Studio. George is the chief executive officer of The Growing Studio International and executive director of LINK.
George also brought his LINK program to The Gateway late December, quarantined, then over a 10-day period held instruction and coaching workshops by Broadway pros for promising theater students in preparation for theater and casting agent showcases. A North Kentucky University theater major freshman, Wray is a “Link” alum.
(Danny and his partner Ricky Loftus George, founders of the Norwalk Conservatory of the Arts, also recently established Norwalk Conservatory College offering a four-year performing arts program.)
Written and composed by composer, lyricist, playwright Jason Robert Brown, “Songs for a New World” debuted off Broadway at the WPA Theater in 1995 with Jessica Molaskey and Billy Porter in its original cast. (Brown has won three Tony Awards for “Parade” and “Bridges of Madison County.”) The show has appeared internationally over the years, premiering in the U.K. in London in 2001 at the Bridewell Theater. It was revived in London in 2015 at the St. James Theatre, and premiered in Paris in 2013. Encores Off Center Production at New York City Center featured the musical in 2018. It played on London stages twice in 2020.
There are six talented stars, three men and women in this production.
The songs are connected by a theme: the moment of decision.
“Each act takes place at two different times in history where we’ve had to make decisions that affect our lives and those of everyone else. And the steps we have to take in this new world,” Baker said. “Like Covid, when circumstances change and we have to carry on.”
The time periods are the 1980s and 2021, with characters making those decisions and moving on in the most positive way possible.
The music is pop, gospel and jazz.
“That’s the style that’s still there,” he said. “We just conceptualized it and put it in a setting to make a more specific impact.”
“At the time it came out, it was called a pop opera,” George added. “It’s a series of songs, a plethora of genres and styles. It’s a deeply ensemble piece. Everyone has a character but they also wear different hats.”
Baker promised “an amazing band that’s onstage, projections, and some other surprises.” The scenic elements were designed by Brittany Loesch.
As for union rules, “we’re adhering to Covid protocols and are a fully vaccinated company,” Baker said.
While the musical’s impetus included discussions with George in December, nailing down the show when opening was possible with changing Covid rules had to happen quickly.
“To this day, we’re getting new rules,” George said. The casting took place a couple of weeks before rehearsals started on July 1.
Wray plays a nurse in the show. “She is caring and wants to make a difference in her job,” she said of her character.
Her big song is in Act 1. “It’s `I’m Not Afraid of Anything,” Wray said. “The power in that song is needed because the message is realizing your power and believing it. My voice is a declaration.”
She grew up in a small town, Perryville, Kentucky. “I sang in the Danville Church of God with an adult praise team,” she said.
It was pointed out that some of the best singers with powerful voices sang regularly in church choirs.
“I think it’s the best training because all these voices are ad libbed,” she said. “And the best singing comes when you’re relaxed.” A former Boyle County High School basketball player, Wray was a student at North Kentucky University when she auditioned for American Idol over Zoom last August. There’s been a heap of offers since her “American Idol” appearance. Luckily she was free for this show.
“When Danny reached out about “Songs for a New World,” I didn’t have anything scheduled for July,” Wray said, adding it’s her first professional role as an actor.
“I told him I want to do Broadway. Musical theater is my love.”