Theo Ubique's A NEW BRAIN is Pure, Exuberant Joy
Music is a powerful thing that can lead one out of the darkness and back to life. Frame a series of songs around a well-written narrative and a musical can move you through a period of grief and hopelessness and back to a place of pure, exuberant joy.
Don't believe me? Look no further than Theo Ubique's production of William Finn's most autobiographical musicalm A NEW BRAIN. The musical is a semi-autobiographical work about composer William Finn's own brush with death in 1992 after he was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation (AVM) on his brain stem, under went Gamma Knife surgery and spent over a year recovering. It's a touching, surprisingly funny production that celebrates the power music can have to bring us all back from the brink.
In the case of the show, Gordon Schwinn (charming newcomer Chase Heinemann in a breakout performance) hits a creative slump trying to finish a song for a children's show for which he has been hired to compose. During a lunch meeting with his no-nonsense agent Rita (Tyler Franklin) to discuss his lack of progress to meet his deadline, he takes a face dive into his pasta, is rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with AVM.
His mother Mimi (Liz Norton) quickly sprint into action and tries to remain positive ("Mother's Gonna Make Things Fine") and Norton perfectly conveys the fact that this is all just a veneer in later, more quiet moments, when she allows us to see just how terrified her character really is at the thought of losing her son. Norton's performance of "The Music Still Plays On" is appropriately somber and haunting and yet somehow manages to be noble and glamorous as well.
His partner Roger (a dashing Colin Schreirer) who sticks with Gordon throughout the crisis, despite Gordon's many, many attempts to push him away. Schreirer's performance of "I'd Rather Be Sailing" is soaring and it's easy to see why Gordon (or anyone else) would swoon over him.
As the nice nurse Richard, Tommy Bullington hits all the comedic marks of the self-deprecating song "Poor, Unsuccessful, and Fat." Andy Brown, as Gordon's boss Mr. Bungee also turns in a winning performance as a bedside hallucination.
Veronica Gara belts the hell out of her songs as Lisa the Homeless Lady. She too appears as a bedside hallucination of sorts begging for "Change" (referencing not only coins, but pleading for something other than the status quo). Her character is one of the last the Gordon sees before his medical crisis, but it has never made much sense to me why a homeless womanfigures so prominently in Gordon's life in all the productions of this show I have seen.
The ensemble's tight harmonies and vocal and music direction by Jeremy Ramey resonate throughout the piece, but particularly on the Doo-wop song "Gordio's Law of Genetics" and the uplifting anthem "Hear and Music and it's reprise, "Time and Music."
Director Fred Anzevino and Assistant Director/Choreographer CameRon Turner again make great use of the intimate space (the production makes the space feel larger than it really is). In particular, Anzevino has balanced the darker and fantastic aspects of the work with humor and realism. You'll laugh, be moved to tears and ultimately be thankful for it.
Such is the power of a musical and such is the power of A NEW BRAIN.
Theo Ubique's production of A NEW BRAIN runs through Oct. 29 at the No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood. Tickets $29-$34. Optional dinner packages available for $25 additional. 800.595.4849. www.theo-u.com