Opening a New World with a New Director


Photo credit/ Anne Zukowski

Actress Taylor Patullo rehearsing before the show.

Sophie Pauline, Staff Writer

Marywood’s Music, Theatre and Dance department will present “Songs for a New World” on Feb. 26 and 27.

The musical is being directed by the recently appointed Theatre Program Director, Charles Gorden, though most of the student and faculty refer to him as Chuck.

This production, written by composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown, is a collection of songs that “examine life, love and the choices we make,” according to Music Theatre International. It is what some consider to be a “song cycle” as opposed to a more common musical format.

Dr. Rick Hoffenberg, Music, Theater, and Dance department co-chair and music director of “Songs for a New World,” called Brown “one of the generation’s great musical theatre composers.”

Hoffenberg said, “He writes such sophisticated, challenging and engaging music, that I knew all of our students would enjoy it.”

Hoffenberg is excited to present this production to the Marywood and local community not only because of the complex artistry of the piece, but also the talent of the cast members.

“I think these singers will impress a lot of people, and if people don’t know Jason Robert Brown, boy, they’ll be really impressed,” he said.

In selecting this show as the spring musical for the Music, Theater, and Dance department, Hoffenberg said, “It was the right show at the right time.” The cast, technical, and orchestral requirements of this show are minimal, which makes it a good fit for the small size of the Music, Theater, and Dance department, according to Hoffenberg.

The director of the production, Gorden, similarly recognized the value the show presents to the department. “I felt it could exploit the strengths of the music program as well as well as the theatre program,” he said.

Gorden noted that “Songs for a New World” is also being used as a vehicle for recruitment for the program. As the new head of the theatre program, he has the established goal of rebuilding the program and creating a positive recruiting situation.

According to Gorden, the administration of the program has been somewhat unstable recently. “It kind of became a revolving door over the last 10 years of not really having anybody permanently in place here,” he said.

With such instability, enrollment is bound to decline Gorden said. He added that the way to recruit students, “is to make the department strong again, which is what we have plans to do.”

Gorden’s plans include reaching out to educators in local high schools to inquire about some of their talented students. He suggested that he might offer a complimentary ticket to a teacher in exchange that they encourage their students to attend the production.

“The biggest recruiting tool we can have is the quality of the productions we produce here at the university…theatre is one of those arts that you kind of have to behold to really understand it,” Gorden said.

He has plans to revise aspects of the theatre program, but is taking the time to let each alteration settle in, so he doesn’t “blow-up the system,” as he said. Some alterations include updating the course requirements for theatre majors and, “bringing the program into the twenty-first century a little more than it is right now.”

One major improvement he is working toward is getting LED lighting into the Black Box theatre. He said this renovation will not only allow students to gain the type of technical training necessary in the field, but will also use 60 to 75 percent less energy than the current lighting system.

Gorden’s work to improve the status of the theatre has not gone unnoticed. His colleagues, such as Hoffenberg are impressed with his transition into the position.

“He’s run the program so smoothly; he needs very little help from me,” Hoffenberg said, “the big news is the lack of news in the sense that there have been so few issues.”

Students also seem to be pleased with Gorden thus far. One cast member of “Songs for a New World,”

Taylor Patullo, said that she has not heard of anyone who has not had a good experience working with him.

As a director, she said, “He is very straightforward and honest. He tells you exactly what he wants and how to fix it; it has been a great learning experience working with him.”

Likewise, Gorden enjoys his time working with the students. “It’s great to see their eyes light up and for them to have realizations,” he said, “not just about the play and the work, but really about themselves and their place in the performing arts.”

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