BY ROBBIE GUEVARA
My first encounter with Songs For A New World (and Jason Robert Brown for that matter) was in the early months of 2002, where, while touring “Miss Saigon” in Manchester City, my flat-mate would start each day by playing his recording in his now-dated MD player. He didn’t have external speakers. He listened to it using his earphones but he also sang along with it. This of course would disturb my sojourn in dreamland — thanks very much, Chuck! — and render my sleep insufficient — something I don’t take lightly. It goes without saying I didn’t really like what I was hearing. Don’t get me wrong. My flat-mate, Chuck, is a wonderful singer, gifted with a full, high tenor voice. But he would wake me up, and so I didn’t fancy it that much.
By around March or April of that year we had planned a fund-raising cabaret, defined in the U.K. as, well, essentially, a mini-concert of sorts, performed in by theatre folk and their friends, for free of course, with repertoires ranging from any style — show tunes mostly (naturally), pop songs, dance numbers and even comedy acts.
I didn’t quite have a hand in this cabaret, aptly titled “Miss Saigon Uncut”. I decided I wanted to be a mere audience member that evening, but for the special video I had cut for the company.
The show was opened by a song called “The New World”, from, you guessed it, “Songs For A New World”. It starts, as you will soon witness, with one girl singing, later joined in by a guy, and then another girl and guy one by one. It was an engaging song number (again, as you will soon witness). I couldn’t for the life of me pinpoint where I first encountered it, until Chuck finally came out to sing his bit onstage. I knew at once it was one of my “alarm clocks” but this time, I wasn’t getting annoyed. I was thoroughly smiling at the way the melodies were coming together and trying my best to hum along, which wasn’t difficult at all.
After the show I immediately asked Chuck for a copy of his MD. I fell in love with it. Jason Robert Brown was officially one of my favorite songwriters. I also bought the CD of “Parade”, another Broadway show he’d written, which, I am shamed to admit, I often ignored in HMV (and, in retrospect, even in Tower Records Manila the few months back! Shame! Shame! Shame!).
Anyway, it all eventually came to place because unlike Chuck, I had external speakers. I would play “Songs For A New World” and “Parade” incessantly and I would, this time, deprive Chuck of his sleep at night. Ha!
Before coming home that year, I bought the original CD of “Songs For A New World”. The MD just wasn’t enough anymore.
I distinctly remember gifting a friend of mine one burned copy for her birthday. She was, at the time, part of Trumpets’ HONK! and every time we would meet up, I would ask her if she had already listened to my birthday gift. More than two or three times, she would nonchalantly say “Ay, no, not yet…” to which I would insist she do so. Then I guess she did because the next time we saw each other, she immediately said, “Rob! My God, that CD? It’s sooo nice!!!” (Smile! Smile! Smile!)
A few weeks later, I am so proud to say, the entire cast of HONK! was singing JRB. I’m not entirely sure it was because of the CD I gave Shiela, but the few people I had asked always said they heard it in her dressing room….. Six years later, it’s finally here. The Asian Premiere, I believe!