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Review: A NEW BRAIN at Varner Hall on the Campus of Oakland University

Review: A NEW BRAIN at Varner Hall on the Campus of Oakland University

Oakland University's School of Music, Theatre and Dance presented Nov 3-6

Review: A NEW BRAIN at Varner Hall on the Campus of Oakland University

Oakland University School of Music, Theatre and Dance Presents A New Brain By the Tony Award-winning authors of Falsettos, William Finn, and James Lapine. Here is an energetic, sardonic, often comical musical about a composer during a medical emergency. Gordon collapses at a meeting and awakes in the hospital, surrounded by his maritime-enthusiast lover, his mother, his best friend, the doctor, and the nurses. Reluctantly, he had been composing a song for a children's television show that features a frog- Mr. Bungee- and the specter of this large green character and the unfinished work haunts him throughout his medical ordeal. What was thought to be a rumor turns out to be something more operable, and Gordon recovers, grateful for a second chance at life. This financial, heartfelt, and intimate place directly explores William Finn's own harrowing questions of morality and the healing power of art. Directed by Rachel Steven.

A New Brain was a great production. While the show explores some pretty serious topics, the audience saw some of the rawest performances from Oakland University's theatre program. A few performances really stood out to me-Travis Darghali as Gordon, Kennedy Vernengo as Mimi, and Chanelle Beach as Lisa. Vernengo plays the lead's mother in this production, and her immersive take on the character was so authentic and magnetic to watch. She played the eccentric, overly-doting mother so well at certain times I had to remind myself that she was a college student. The musicality in her movements, from how she presented her arms and prop work, gave a deep dive into her character. Her singing was also compelling and beautifully sung throughout the show, but especially during Mother's Gonna Make Things Fine, where we get to explore the relationship between her and her son, Gordon. Gordon, played by Travis Darghali, leads the show with such class and grace. As the lead, it can be a daunting task to rarely leave the stage, and for a show that is hundred minutes with no intermission, it takes excellent stamina to pull off such a vocally heavy performance. The character, Gordon, is a huge role, not only vocally but emotionally, ranging from singing a silly children's song about frogs to the deep melancholia of accepting your own pending mortality is no easy feat, but Darghali made it look effortless. Speaking of a performance that was fun to watch, I would be remiss, not to mention Chanelle Beach as Lisa. Every theatrical show I attend, I always seem drawn to one character or performance that catches my eye every time they enter the stage. I could not stop watching Beach for this performance whenever she was in a scene. She has excellent voice control and smoothness to her vocals, which is not something you can teach. Throughout the show, she encounters most of the characters and sings, "Hey mister, hey you," and that little line repeated throughout the show made the audience perk up as it was so beautifully sung. Director Rachel Stevens led this cast.

After the show, I got to catch up with her and ask her about the audition process. Steven's said, "All acting, musical theatre, BA students, and theatre minors were welcome to audition. I believe we saw about 100 students in total. It was a really joyful process to see the work our students brought to the table. For A New Brain callbacks, we narrowed things down to five or fewer actors for each role, and there was a lot of overlap. Many actors had several possibilities. When it came to casting, the process was quite thorough. For every character, actors had to internalize sides and bring in choices to make adjustments and try new things. The actors really stepped up to the plate and did beautiful work." I asked Stevens if any students had plans to continue performing post-grad. She mentioned this; "Our seniors are getting ready for their senior showcase in New York City for industry professionals this winter. It's a very exciting time. We have folks that are interested in pursuing careers in New York, LA, here in Detroit, and beyond."

I sincerely hope to see these actors perform more in the future. I was already casting them in new shows I would love to see them in. Chanelle Beach would be perfectly cast to play Eurydice in Hadestown. If Dogfight ever got a revival, I would be intrigued to see Travis Darghali as Eddie Birdlace. Kennedy Vernengo would be an excellent addition to the Six cast as Jane Seymour or Paulette in Legally Blonde the Musical. This cast inspired me, and I highly recommend attending a show at the Varner Theatre. I very much look forward to returning to see what their next show will be.

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UPCOMING THEATRE EVENTS

Pizza Man by Darlene Craviotto
Friday- Saturday, November 18 - 19 at 8 p.m. Sunday, November 20 at 2 p.m.
Varner Lab Theatre | $6 all seats

Directing II: An Evening of 10-Minute Plays
Thursday - Friday, December 8 - 9 at 8 p.m. Varner Lab Theatre | Free admission

A Little Night Music Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim Book by Hugh Wheeler
Thursday, March 23 at 8 p.m. | Friday, March 24 at 10 a.m. and
8 p.m. Saturday, March 25 at 2 and 8 p.m. | Sunday, March 26 at 2 p.m.
Flagstar Strand Theatre for the Performing Arts $22 general, $12 students

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Thursday - Saturday, March 30 - April 1 at 8 p.m.
Pontiac Little Art Theatre | $15 general, $8 students

Love and Information by Caryl Churchill
Thursday - Friday, April 6 -7 at 8 p.m. | Saturday, April 8 at 2 and 8 p.m.
Pontiac Little Art Theatre | $15 general, $8 students For a full listing of events, visit: oakland.edu/smtd/performances-and-events




From This Author - Emily Schenk

Emily Schenk is a wife and owner of a farm in Milford where she raises ducks, chickens, and her two dogs Daisy Rey and Scrumpy. She is a former thespian and current Broadway fanatic. She enjoys an ... (read more about this author)


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A New Brain was a great production. While the show explores some serious topics, the audience saw some of the rawest performances from Oakland University's theatre program. This cast inspired me, and I highly recommend attending a show at the Varner Theatre. I very much look forward to returning to see what their next show will be. @OUSMTD

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