Boston's Best and Brown Come Together for Oct. 24 North Shore Benefit
Perhaps the Scarecrow's fear of fire was justified. After all, fire has the power to destroy and ravage decades of effort and history in mere minutes. In can annihilate hopes and dreams in the blink of an eye and extinguish economic well being faster than a stock market crash. And all it leaves behind are the charred remnants of what was and the smoky image of what might have been.
No one knows this better than the North Shore Music Theatre.
After the July 14th performance of Cinderella, a fire broke out and destroyed the theater's stage, orchestra pit, lighting, sound equipment, and interior, including all 1,800 seats. The effect on North Shore has been devastating. The theatre was forced to cancel its summer performances and concerts. It began its 2005-2006 season not in Beverly, but in downtown Boston's Shubert Theatre. While North Shore will return to the Beverly theatre with its production of The Full Monty November 1, the North Shore Encore Fund must still raise $7 million dollars in gifts and pledges by the end of this year to ensure that it can remain open and provide programming for schools and community members.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, North Shore is determined shine again—and it is making its mark on the fall theatre season with the October 24 benefit performance and New England premiere of the orchestral version of Jason Robert Brown's "Songs For A New World." Boston's most talented theatre stars are teaming up for this one-night event, which will feature Jason Robert Brown and his band The Caucasian Rhythm Kings as well as a 35 piece orchestra comprised of Boston University School of Music students. "The theatre community is coming together to support one of its own," says producer Matt Kidd.
The event will feature such Boston favorites as Leigh Barrett, Mary Callanan, Brian Robinson, Kerry Dowling, and Broadway star Lauren Kennedy, all of whom have donated their time and talent to raising awareness and funds for North Shore's cause. "I think you're going to see some of Boston's best and brightest…in an absolute best light," says actress Leigh Barrett, who was most recently seen in Pal Joey at the Stoneham Ensemble Theatre and performed in Songs For A New World with Speakeasy Stage Company in 2001. "That's what's really great about Boston theatre performers and the people assembled in this company for this event—these are the people you call when you need the A-game."
For those who haven't seen the show before, North Shore's benefit is a wonderful opportunity "to see the performers you love most doing some great singing with a great orchestra…for a good cause," says Brown. But for those who are already fans of the musical, be warned—this is not your typical Songs For A New World. "This is a concert that has songs from Songs From A New World," explains Brown. "There is no attempt to unify the songs they way we do in the show itself. We have a good time singing the songs…and have everyone have a crack at singing."
It's a new twist on a Jason Robert Brown classic—one that's sure to please everyone involved. "Jason Robert Brown writes for your heart lyrically and musically—you hear it," says Barrett. Actress Mary Callanan, who is currently starring in Menopause: The Musical, agrees. "He's written so many wonderful works, great songs, fabulous stories within one song, and you string them together…it's amazing," she says.
It's also a chance for audience members to see the greatest talent in Boston performing together under the same roof—an event that rarely occurs in the theatre community. "People who normally have to go to a variety of theatres to see all these performers will just have to go to the John Hancock for one night and sit back and have a great time," says director Tony McLean. Callanan agrees. "These [are] the best performers in Boston, bar-none," she says, "doing a work that's never been done here for the first time…and helping a theatre and the composer is there! This just doesn't happen around here!"
And after October 24, it won't happen again, which is perhaps why the atmosphere surrounding this production is so uniquely electric. Put together an experienced creative time, a legendary composer, and a supremely talented cast, and great things are bound to happen. There's no doubt that North Shore's Songs For A New World is going to be theatrical magic, but its also going to be fun as well. "I hope we all have a lot of fun," says Brown. "It's the only reason I bother doing anything."
Hope is the underlying theme for this production. Hope to raise awareness about North Shore. Hope to raise funds that will keep the theatre running. Hope to excite the audience with the performance. And hope to bring North Shore back from the brink of devastation.
"You don't really appreciate something until you almost lose it," says McLean. "[The fire] reminds again how fragile things can be and that the least expected bad things can happen to everyone."
The challenge, however, is not in surviving the tragedy, but in coming back stronger than ever. The Songs For A New World benefit is just the first step in that direction for North Shore, but in the greater picture, it testifies to the dedication the Boston theatre community has for its members. And with a little help from its friends, there's no doubt that North Shore will once again reach the heights. "Everyone has been working harder than ever," says Kidd. "This event shows that people do care about theatre."
North Shore Music Theatre's one night only benefit performance of Jason Robert Brown's Songs For A New World will take place Monday, October 24 at 8 PM, at the John Hancock Hall at180 Berkley Street
in Boston. For tickets, call 978-232-7200 or visit www.nsmt.org. For more information about North Shore Music Theatre or to make a donation to North Shore's Encore Fund, visit www.nsmt.org.