|Jonathan Groff and Dan Fogler as Gordon and|
Mr. Bungee. Photo by Joan Marcus.
My grade: A.
Plot and BackgroundA semi-autobiographical musical, inspired by a potentially terminal brain diagnosis composer William Finn received, A New Brain follows Gordon Schwinn, a struggling composer working for a children's show he abhors as he tries to balance his love life, his overbearing mother, and his dream of writing something brilliant before he dies - which may be all too soon. Finn began writing the songs for this show - with collaborator James Lapine's encouragement - soon after his discharge from the hospital. The show was originally workshopped in 1996 and 1997 before its Lincoln Center Off-Broadway run in 1998. It is presented here as part of New York City Center's Encores! Off-Center Series.
What I Knew BeforehandI was extremely familiar with the original cast recording, though I've never read the script nor seen the show performed live.
Play: James Lapine proves once again to be as skilled a director as he is a writer, effectively staging the production to such a professional and clean degree that one can only barely call it a concert (Equity rules probably still require us to call it that). The shows moves quickly and fluidly from scene to scene, and Josh Prince's choreography, best displayed in "And They're Off" and the tango "Brain Dead" is fun and kinetic. Lapine manages to maintain the sense of play Finn wrote into the score, with Gordon wryly conducting the ensemble in "Gordo's Law of Genetics," while also giving space and time to the more poignant moments like "Really Lousy Day in the Universe" or "The Music Still Plays On." I was a fan of the show already, but I did appreciate the revisions made to the score (sure, I miss "Calamari," but they cut several of the songs I always skip on the CD, so that's cool, too). I could see this very easily transferring to a commercial run, if the producers feel so inclined, though they may have to wait for Jonathan Groff's schedule to clear up (incidentally, his upcoming Hamilton gig gave a fun little punch to Lisa's line, "I don't care if you're the King of England").