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In ‘Songs for a New World,’ a moment for a talented Miguel Molinar to Shine

‘Songs for a New World” has long been one of those little-known, secret pleasures of a select set of Broadway fans. I can’t remember how I even first heard about the musical or got a copy of the original cast album on CD, oh so many years ago, but once I did, it became a favorite. It was my introduction to composer Jason Robert Brown, who became one of my favorites. Brown would go on to write such shows as “Parade,” “The Last Five Years,” “13” and “The Bridges of Madison County” — all of whose scores I highly recommend, by the way — and become a Tony Award darling.

A Shine! Theatre production of the rarely performed show opens Friday, Feb. 7, at the Tower Theatre Lounge. This will be my first time to get to see it on stage.

Pictured above, clockwise from top left: Jennifer Myers, Miguel Molinar, Mady Broach and Harrison Mills. Photo: Shine! Theatre

“Songs for a New World,” which premiered in 1995, is special. It’s what you might call a song cycle. In musical-theater tradition, most of the numbers in the show tell specific narratives, but they’re only loosely connected in terms of a show-wide storyline.

The show is directed by tony sanders (who does not capitalize his name). Musical director is Dakota Simpson.

The four-person cast features Mady Broach, Harrison Mills, Miguel Molinar and Jennifer Myers.

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I have wanted to interview Molinar since his stellar performance as Sancho Panza in Good Company Players’ production of “Man of La Mancha.” I talked with him by phone and email for this preview interview.

Q: “Songs for a New World” is a bucket-list sort of show for both of us. For me, I’ve always wanted to see it. And you’ve always wanted to be in it. Do you remember when you first heard of the show and the first song you latched onto?

A: So this question definitely sent me back to the year 2006 or 2007 when Audra McDonald sang at the Warnors Theatre. One of the songs on her set list was “Stars and the Moon.” Thus began my healthy obsession with “Songs for a New World” and Audra McDonald.

Q: Jason Robert Brown has an amazing way of telling a story through his lyrics. Each of the songs in the show feels as if it creates its own, self-contained world. How do you think he does it?

A: He writes for the singer, actor and instrumentalist. Every chord, lyric and drum cadence has its own specific reason for existing. That would be my guess because I really have no idea how he executes such amazing material. I’m just super excited to get to dig into this character that leaves room for some open interpretation.


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Q: When the songs are performed together, do they create any sort of larger narrative or theme?

Every song has its own backstory implied and we are taking advantage of that in this production to create storyline for the audience. Songs For A New World deals with a lot of themes, like love, lovers quarrels, death and redemption. It’s oddly patriotic yet resistant of conformist ideals.

Q: The cast is small — just you and three others. Introduce them for us.

A: We have Mady Broach. She will be playing Woman 2. Her rendition of “Stars and the Moon” is so moving. We all teared up at rehearsal last week when she performed it. It was a moment. Playing Woman 1 is Jenny Myers. Man 2 is Harrison Mills. Jenny and Harrison sing the popular duet “I’d Give It All For You” from the show. They sound so good together. It’s worth the price of the ticket alone. This is a rare treat to get to see Jenny perform in a Shine! show because she usually is directing, vocal coaching, choreographing — you name it. Harrison was in Shine’s production of “Big River” and Mady performed in “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.”

Q: Brown is known as a wonderful pianist, and the parts he wrote for piano can steal this show. Who is this production’s pianist, and can he keep up with Brown’s licks on the keyboard?

A: Well, really and truly, the fifth cast member is our pianist/artist collaborator, Adam Miller. I say that because he plays this music like he wrote it himself and is a pivotal element in this production. I feel confident to say that our entire company feels blessed to have him on board.

Q: Talk about the director’s vision for the production.

A: tony sanders, our director and the founder of Shine! Theatre, has arguably the toughest job. He has to make this whole show make sense. There’s a lot of clever blocking and some reassigning of songs. He’s added a set that enhances the experience for the viewers and gives us, the actors, more to play with while in rehearsal. In this production he’s using on stage interaction to help with the development of the story.

Q: You perform a song with a sort of peculiar title: “On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship, 1492.” Tell us about it.

A: Oh, boy, this one is heavy. This song is about having faith. Feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders. It’s about the perspective of an immigrant coming to new territory because they couldn’t live in their country anymore. This song has been interpreted to derive from the historical expelling of Jews in Spain 1492 from the Spanish Inquisition.

Shine! Theatre

The cast of ‘Songs for a New World.’

Q: The song captures one of the great challenges of existence: Someone’s life can be going well, and then, because of something outside your control, things can change in a flash, and you have to adapt to new circumstances. Thinking of your own life, how closely can you relate to that?

A: OK, well, I had a feeling this Oprah-weighted question was coming. Being a caregiver for my wonderful mother, I constantly feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, but it’s a weight that challenges me to be a better person in so many ways. This song is all about submitting to the cards you’ve been dealt and trusting that there is some higher plan for your life even if you can’t see it yet. And never giving up the good fight.

Q: You attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and lived in New York. For a while, you wanted to be a professional actor. What is on the agenda now?

A: I loved my training and time spent at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. I studied at both locations and worked some really cool jobs in NYC because of it. I am now back in school taking music classes at Fresno City. My main agenda is being healthy and stable enough to be available to care for my mom for as long as she needs and wants me. I’m very grateful that our schedule allows me to be able to be involved in the community in this way.

Q: Your performance as Sancho Panza in Good Company’s “Man of La Mancha” was memorable. What did you learn about yourself playing Sancho? How much “Sancho” do you think you have in you?

A: You are far too kind, but thank you so much for the compliment. Good Company Players is such a great place to perform, and “Man of La Mancha” will forever hold a special place in my heart. That was such a physically active role. learned quickly that I needed to add a little more cardio to my workout routine. I have a feeling I’m a lot like Sancho but I don’t really see it. I would love to revive the show again in 10 years with the same cast. My dream team, Chris Mangels and Amalie Larsen, totally made my year getting to perform with them. They were so encouraging, welcoming, and loving. I learned so much from them.

Q: Describe yourself in just three words.

A: Loving, hardworking, serious.

Q: If you could play any role in musical theater, what would it be?

A: I hope this answer is OK. I know I’m the wrong gender and race but I’ve always wanted to play Effie White from “Dreamgirls.” I’d settle for Mama Rose in “Gypsy.” I know what you’re thinking: typical.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say?

A: I’m so thankful that Shine! Theatre brought this risky, contemporary musical theatre piece to the Central Valley. I’m even more grateful we have the talent on this team to pull it off.


Show info

‘Songs for a New World,’ 8 p.m. Feb. 7-8 and Feb. 14-15, Tower Theatre Lounge, 809 E. Olive Ave. Tickets are $20, $17.50 students and seniors.


Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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