Interview: Gregory Nabours & Nico Pang on Celebration Theatre's Musical Approach to A NEW BRAIN

Check out this full interview with Musical Director Gregory Nabours & Assistant Director Nico Pang.

By: Jun. 09, 2023
Interview: Gregory Nabours & Nico Pang on Celebration Theatre's Musical Approach to A NEW BRAIN
As Celebration Theatre's thoughtfully gender-expansive production of A NEW BRAIN enters its final performance weeks, in association with the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the production's Assistant Director Nico Pang (they/them) sat down with musical director Gregory Nabours (he/him) to look back on how he and the creative team approached the opportunity to reimagine the story in this powerful way.

NICO: In one of our first rehearsals, you mentioned meeting your now-husband while working on the LA premiere of A New Brain. Tell us more about your personal connection and history with this show.

GREG: This show definitely has a special place in my heart. I was a young music director who was asked to lead a college production where the cast would not only sing but also accompany themselves with instruments. We all went out to eat one night, the gentleman playing Gordon threw a crayon at me, and I thought, "I'm going to marry that man." And I did! That production went on to see 3 separate runs, the last of which was the Los Angeles premiere at the El Portal Theatre, where we got to meet Bill Finn and Jason Robert Brown (who did the arrangements).

NICO: Currently, my favorite ANB songs are "Invitation to Sleep In My Arms" and "Spring". Do you have a favorite song or moment?

Interview: Gregory Nabours & Nico Pang on Celebration Theatre's Musical Approach to A NEW BRAIN
Amanda Kruger and Ensemble

GREG: These kinds of questions are always difficult to answer as a musician. My favorite song to play is "Change," because I get to go off on the piano. My favorite song to hear is "Heart and Music" because it's the first time in the show that we get the power of the full ensemble. My favorite song as a composer is "Invitation To Sleep" because it pulls 4 different melodies together into a single tune. BUT... my favorite song has always been "Sailing." As a songwriter, I learned a lot from this tune. It's a moment of breath in a chaotic score, and the simplicity of the melody speaks volumes. 

Interview: Gregory Nabours & Nico Pang on Celebration Theatre's Musical Approach to A NEW BRAIN
Amanda Kruger and Yassi Noubahar

NICO: I remember getting emotional in the rehearsal room when I experienced Amanda Kruger and Yassi Noubahar singing as Gordon and Roger for the first time, as these were roles and songs I had only seen cisgender men perform before. What was your approach to the casting and score for our gender-expansive production? How did you work with the actors and our team to discover what worked for them and the story?

GREG: I'm so happy to get this question because it gives me a chance to state a perfectly obvious answer. I approached the casting as it should always be approached: with reverence towards the individuals and a strong desire to help them shine. We entered the casting process with loose parameters, we hadn't predetermined pronouns because we wanted to cast the person and not the gender. I wasn't going to imagine a voice and try to force actors to recreate it, I was much more interested in tailoring the show around the voices we had. In the beginning, music rehearsals were very explorative: experimenting with keys, experimenting with alternate melodies, experimenting with harmonies. But bit by bit, we created our version of this show, and we all did it together. 

NICO: Gordon being nonbinary has brought so many beautiful and new layers to the show. As our team worked collaboratively to reimagine A New Brain (such as adjusting some of the lyrics with gendered language), what was the process like for you as Music Director? What were some of the opportunities and challenges?

GREG: There are quite a few challenges to altering a score like this, which is one of the reasons it doesn't happen too often. Altering keys in real life is not like pushing a button on a karaoke machine. In a show like this, where vocal harmonies are dense and interwoven throughout, changing a key often means changing the vocal arrangement behind it and then rewriting the band books for every single instrument, which can take weeks. I happen to be a composer, a vocal arranger, and an orchestrator, so I have the skills and the technology to pull it all off, but it's uncommon to have access to such resources in the world of intimate theatre, where we operate on a razor-thin budget. Beyond that, A New Brain is a sung-through musical where the music never stops, so transitioning smoothly from one song to the next had to be taken into account when selecting keys. HOWEVER... after all that is said and done, it is wonderfully rewarding. To give your performers the tools to tell a story in a way that no one else has ever told it before is the kind of work most artists strive to accomplish. It gives me, as a storyteller and a musician, a chance to TRULY add nuance and thought and breath into the score.

Interview: Gregory Nabours & Nico Pang on Celebration Theatre's Musical Approach to A NEW BRAIN
Amanda Kruger and Gina Torrecilla

NICO: Do you have any advice for other Music Directors who are interested in reimagining songs and expanding access for trans/nonbinary people and other underrepresented communities in musical theatre?

GREG: DO IT! Technology has changed, and what used to be weeks of work can now be accomplished in days. We don't need to live chained to replicating Broadway performances and churning out Paint-By-Numbers theatre until audiences give up on it entirely. If people knew what kind of inspired work artists do in these intimate spaces, I think we'd see a renewal of love for the art form. Keep reimagining stories, keep asking difficult questions, keep having charged discussions, keep making art that pressures you to push yourself. When everything is said and done, isn't that what theatre is all about? 

A New Brain runs through Saturday, June 24, at the Davidson-Valentini Theatre at the Los Angeles LGBT Center's Lily Tomlin-Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center in Hollywood. The production is offering two Transgender & Nonbinary Affinity Night performances (Fridays 6/9, 6/23) with community-access ticket pricing. Tickets can be reserved at

Photo Credit: Jeff Lorch Photography

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