BWW Review: Lyric Opera Theatre Presents A NEW BRAIN
William Finn (Falsettos, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Little Miss Sunshine) in mid-career was diagnosed with a brain arteriovenous malformation, a condition that can become permanently disabling or fatal. Came then the panic ~ not solely from the playwright's fear of finality but principally from the dread of losing his muse and his music ~ and, hallelujah, in the glow of recovery, a fabulous mind trip of a musical, A NEW BRAIN (in 1999, the winner of the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical).
Under the direction and choreography of Robert Kolby Harper, a cast of sparkling talents brings scads of oxygen and energy to Finn's brain child ~ the second featured production of ASU's Lyric Opera Theatre's current season.
For Finn's alter ego, Gordon Michael Schwinn (played with brio and poignancy by Drake Sherman), there are songs to be written and sung that have yet to see the light of day ~ and won't, as he long as he's confined to plunking away at silly melodies for a kids TV show hosted by Mr. Bungee (David Hopkins).
When Gordon spills into a dish of calamari, all bets for the future unleashing of his creative spirit are off. He's got "trouble in his brain." It is Finn's imagination that propels Schwinn from his hospital bed into a hallucinogenic bike ride that pedals into encounters with the significant others of his life.
Along Gordon's road to recovery and reclamation, there is no shortage of show-stopping moments in this production, no brakes to be applied in a showcase of standout performances, richly enhanced by the ASU orchestra under the direction of Danielle Hutchison:
Austin Delp, smooth and suave (with a stellar voice!) as Gordon's devoted boyfriend (I'd Rather Be Sailing); Nellie Shuford as Gordon's doting mother (Mother's Gonna Make Things Fine); Anissa Griego as Rhoda, his agent, delivering a hilarious rendition of Whenever I Dream; Julian Mendoza as Nurse Richard, who gets a double volley of applause in Poor, Unsuccessful and Fat; Brielle Amrein, delightful in her dual roles as a waitress and Nurse Nancy D; and Alyssa Lucero, captivating as the peripatetic homeless woman whose presence is much like that of the Greek chorus, conveying themes central to Finn's narrative (Change).
In the beginning of Gordon's odyssey, time seemed a casualty of his diagnosis. At its end, time is a gift to be cherished and used well. William Finn's story is a prescient reminder of that truth. ?
Time would now be well-spent catching a show of A NEW BRAIN during its all-too-short run at the Evelyn Smith Music Theatre on the ASU Tempe Campus. Next performances are November 16th-18th at 7:30 p.m. and November 19th at 2 p.m.
Photo credit to Tim Trumble