“A New Brain,” a musical by William Finn and James Lapine, tells the story of composer Gordon Schwinn. Schwinn collapses during a meeting with his agent and is rushed to the hospital where he is diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation. He worries that he will die before he is able to complete his creative works.
“All the songs I never wrote. Fizzle and remain.
All the songs I did not start.
All the rhymes I never made.
All the stories I delayed in telling
are welling up inside my brain.
I should explain…
I have so many songs.”
The show itself is full of fun and engaging music, and it is all brilliantly performed by Green Valley Theatre Company’s stellar cast.
Craig Howard stars as Gordon Schwinn, and is really quite amazing. His voice is perfect for the role – it sounds like this music was written for him. His acting brings a lot of energy and interest to a role that spends a lot of time lying or sitting in a hospital bed. When he gets to move around more freely, Howard is even more dynamic.
As dazzling as Howard is, the rest of the cast shines brightly right alongside him. The ten-person company absolutely nails the beautiful harmonies and counter-melodies, and each member of the ensemble brings strong acting skills to their respective roles.
Mr. Bungee, a children’s television star, is brought to life by Owen Smith, who is an excellent foil for Howard’s Schwinn. He pulls off a ridiculous – in a good way – frog costume with flare. His song, “Don’t Give In,” in the second act, is very catchy, and allows Smith to show a different side than he displayed in Act 1.
Schwinn’s agent, Rhoda, is played by the talented Eimi Taormina. She has a strong stage presence, and a lovely, clear voice, which I wish she had been able to show off even more.
The same goes for Mike Yee, who plays the Minister. He is fantastic, and I wish his part had a little more character development. When Yee gets featured vocally, he doesn’t need a spotlight – he shines brightly enough on his own.
Joelle Robertson is Lisa, a homeless lady (as billed in the program), and has a fantastic, soulful voice. She is very strong in her acting, and had the audience alternately laughing at and contemplating the meaning of her song “Change.”
Martha Knight plays Mimi Schwinn, Gordon’s mother, and is wonderful. Her character’s struggle to remain poised and strong makes her two solos – “Throw it Out” and “The Music Still Plays On” – truly poignant. Audience members sitting near me were sniffling during “The Music Still Plays On.”
Roger Delli-Bovi is played by Nephi Speer, who plays his role with a lot of love and honesty. His voice is fantastic, and is featured particularly well in his duet with Robertson, “A Really Lousy Day in the Universe,” which opens Act 2.
Ryan Allen, Scott Minor, and Lizzy Poore round out the cast. Poore’s role as the bubbly and excitable waitress in “Calamari” was particularly funny, and helped get the show off to a great start. She returns later as a nurse, and plays that role ably as well. Minor plays Richard (the nice nurse), and is good for a number of laughs throughout the show. Allen’s Dr. Jafar Berensteiner is well-played, and he handles the role’s vocal parts skillfully.
A six-member band sits on the side of the stage and is a great addition to the show. Live music is such a boon to any production, and this orchestra handles Finn’s music deftly. The lighting and set design work perfectly for the show and the theater. Jerry Kennedy’s direction and Amanda Johnson’s choreography bring out the best in their cast.
I saw this production on opening night, and the show will do nothing but get better and better throughout its run. I absolutely recommend that you grab your tickets soon – you won’t want to miss this show.
“A New Brain” runs Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 7 p.m. through May 18.
http://greenvalleytheatre.com/tickets/ for tickets