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BWW Interview: Cedric Neal Talks SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD

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BWW Interview: Cedric Neal Talks SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD
Cedric Neal

Fans of Jason Robert Brown will be embracing the opportunity to witness a fresh production of Songs From A New World. It was last performed in the UK way back in 2015 - when The Other Palace was known as St James Theatre - and had an impressive cast of Jenna Russell, Cynthia Erivo, Dean John Wilson and Damian Humbley.

Songs For A New World is Brown's first musical, and Lambert Jackson Productions is bringing it back to the masses with a new isolated production starring Rachel John, Cedric Neal, Rachel Tucker and Ramin Karimloo.

We caught up with Cedric Neal ahead of the show to get his insights into the rehearsal process, and why this musical is so relevant right now.

Songs For A New World will be unfamiliar to some, and its abstract format makes it more of a song cycle than a traditional musical. How would you define it?

I think it's fair to consider Songs For A New World a song cycle. The four "characters" could individually be a traditional musical, so I guess that makes it the best of both worlds.

The common thread running through each character's plight is how they are experiencing 'one moment' and need to decide which direction to turn or what decision to make. Do you think this kind of theme will be particularly resonant with people right now?

We all know and have experienced that 'one moment' in life. With the global pandemic and Black Lives Matter Movement going on, the awareness and active change taking place in the world is all because we are experiencing a universal 'one moment'.

How does it feel to be taking on Jason Robert Brown's first ever produced show? It feels like quite a demanding score too! Have you ever seen a production of this show before, or was the material quite new to you?

I'm excited and frightened to finally be tackling Songs For A New World. I was made aware of this show in 2009 when I heard a recording of Billy Porter slaying "King of the World". I've since seen two productions of the show - one in my hometown of Dallas, Texas, and the other here in London. The London production featured Cynthia Erivo and Dean John Wilson. Then I heard the 2018 recording featuring another friend of mine, Mykal Kilgore, singing as Man 1. [Billy & Mykal] make the music seem so easy, but this is the hardest music I've ever had to learn. I just hope I can do the score justice. "Flying Home" is some of the prettiest music ever written!

How has the rehearsal process been for this lockdown performance? All of the cast will obviously be recording in isolation, but have you been able to collaborate much?

This rehearsal process has been BANANAS! It's difficult to get out of your own head, when you're in isolation. Then trying to match vowel sounds, breathing patterns and phrasing on the group numbers is a trip. We've taken full advantage of video-conferencing and LOVE a group-chat rehearsal!

You started your career on Broadway before moving here to star in several big West End productions - what do you miss most about the thrill of being on an actual stage?

I miss the nervous energy backstage when "beginners/places" is called over the loud speaker. I miss visiting every dressing room, connecting with my peers. I miss the immediate reception of the audience. I miss taking selfies with fans at the stage door. I miss (to paraphrase a lyric from Songs For A New World) "telling the story"!

It's obviously a very tough time for the industry at the moment. How have you been getting through it all? Are there any projects you've been involved with that have helped keep you sane, or have you used the time to relax and regroup?

Full disclosure: I didn't handle quarantine and the thought of not working very well initially. I became a hermit. Staying in bed, eating ice cream for breakfast, and trying to avoid the reality of not being able to perform. Then Lambert Jackson called about this project, and that call became my most recent 'one moment'. It caused me to get out of my funk, and adapt to telling the story virtually. I'm forgiving myself for momentarily giving up - and ready to sing of "a new world, just around the corner"...!

And finally: what's the first thing you'll do when theatres reopen?

The first thing I'll do when theatres reopen...BUY A TICKET TO WHATEVER SHOW THAT WILL BE! Then I'll do everything I can to support my peers up there!

Songs For A New World streams 23-25 July, and you can buy tickets HERE

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From This Author Caroline Cronin