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Geekout: The Cast of Songs for a New World on How Billy Porter, Eponine, and Ragtime Turned Them into Musical Theater Geeks

Nick Adams, Ashley Brown, Jessica Rush, and Michael James Scott confess their first theater addictions.

Jessica Rush, Nick Adams, Michael James Scott, and Ashley Brown
(© Tad Mask)

Some people say "musical theater geek" like it's a bad thing. (Because reading treble clef, singing in parts, and feeling feelings are way worse than slaying elves 18 hours a day?) To become a proper MTG, one must first be seduced by a show—a sexy gateway drug, but with lyrics. For a generation of musical fans, that drug was Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World, a collection of narrative songs that ripped out hearts and exhilarated audiences when it debuted off-Broadway in 1995. Carried by Brown's now Tony Award-winning pop licks and the performances of cast members Andrea Burns (In the Heights), Billy Porter (Kinky Boots), Jessica Molaskey (Sunday in the Park with George), and Brooks Ashmanskas (The Ritz), it became, and remains, the go-to audition songbook for aspiring Tony Award winners and required listening for geeks-in-training.

With Songs returning for a one-night-only concert performance on March 11 at XL Cabaret, we asked stars Nick Adams (Priscilla Queen of the Desert), Ashley Brown (Mary Poppins), Jessica Rush (Gypsy) and Michael James Scott (The Book of Mormon) what show transformed them into proud MTGs. Unsurprisingly, 50% of the cast reports the first musical they stalked is...well, read:

Jessica Rush

First Show Obsession: Les Miserables

First discovered: In 1987, the year it opened [on Broadway]. I was 6, and heard all the way in my tiny town of Orange, TX, about a show where everyone died by the end. What? That's crazy! I was hooked.

Vinyl, Tape, DVD, or MP3: Originally, I would sing along to my Original Broadway Cast recording cassette tape. Later, it became the complete symphonic recording. The three-disc set....

Favorite song: My favorite song??!! How do I even begin to narrow it down? IMPOSSIBLE! My favorite song has changed as I've grown. It used to be "On My Own," then "I Dreamed a Dream." I'm a sucker for a heartbreaking ballad. It's interesting to see how my favorites have changed with time, but they are all about women going through it, making a choice--much like the songs I get to sing in Songs for a New World. Women on journey. I like that.

Showgeek moment: When I finally saw the show, at age 11 in New York, I was completely in love with Marius. I was praying he wouldn't die, then daydreaming about him when I got back to Texas. Eighteen years later I found myself playing opposite him in Miss Saigon! The day Eric Kunze and I put that together was a big one. And then there's the time I sang "On My Own" for my Mickey Mouse Club audition. With a shawl. True story.

Nick Adams

First Show Obsession: Ragtime

First Discovered: Age 12.

Vinyl, cassette, CD, or MP3: I first had a promotional CD sampler of only a few songs from the show that I was given when I saw the original Toronto production. Toronto was the closest city to see theater for me, as I grew up in Erie, PA.

Favorite Song: "Wheels of a Dream"

Showgeek moment: I remember buying the vocal selections as soon as they were available. I sang that music for everything. Years later, when I worked with director Frank Galati, I just gushed to him about how that show changed my life

Ashley Brown

First Show Obsession: Songs for a New World

First Discovered: Sophomore year of high school.

Vinyl, Tape, DVD, or MP3: I had both the CD and sheet music. And I might have had it in my back pack at all times...

Favorite Song: "I'm Not Afraid of Anything"

Showgeek Moment: I won districts [for voice] with "I'm Not Afraid…" in high school, and used that song for all of my college auditions. I have a very strong connection to it. I remember meeting Andrea Burns [who sang the original] when I was plying Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Her husband, Peter, was playing my Lumier. I tried to play it cool, but was dying inside. I went in my dressing room afterwards and squealed a little bit.

Michael James Scott

First Show Obsession: Songs for a New World

First Discovered: I was 14.

Vinyl, cassette, CD, or MP3: I had the CD of the off-Broadway cast recording, and even though the sheet music wasn't out yet, I had that as well. I thought I was so cool because I had the sheet music.

Favorite Song: "King of the World"

Showgeek Moment: Songs for A New World was the first show where I listened to it and heard a voice I could relate to. It showed me that I could potentially have a place in this business. I was inspired by the sound and became obsessed with the whole score. It gave me something tangible to work towards--at least in my young-theater-geek self's brain as I was belting in my living room pretending I was the singers on that soundtrack!