BWW Review: And They're Off! Front Porch Theatricals Kicks Off Summer Season with A NEW BRAIN
A struggling writer is all too common a motif in literature - think Midnight in Paris, Sunset Boulevard, orSomething Rotten!. For Gordon Michael Schwinn, writing hit songs for a children's television show will be his legacy if he doesn't make a change, before it's too late...before he needs A New Brain.
Enter Gordon Michael Schwinn (John Wascavage) in the first scene. He makes his way over to his piano. Behind, a tornado of sheet paper swirls from the piano to the rafters and remains for the entirety of the show. Schwinn is battling with himself - writing for the deadline but contesting that he should be writing works with artistic value to the world. He is left unfulfilled when he slaps together songs for the frog puppeteer Mr. Bungee (Matthew Rush).
Schwinn eventually collapses and is taken to the hospital, where it is discovered that he may need to undergo surgery on his brain. Scared, Schwinn is comforted - sometimes stressed out - by his friend Rhoda (Meredith Kate Doyle), boyfriend Roger (Jeremy Spoljarick), and mother Mimi (Becki Toth).
A New Brainis presented by Front Porch Theatrical in its 2018 "Real People, Real Stories" Season. Indeed, the plot of A New Brainis semi-autobiographical; creator William Finn also struggled with a near death experience, laying the influential foundation for this musical.
The show, however linear in plot, is very much a look into the brain of Schwinn, ergo Finn. Sporadic moments of seemingly random song and dance offer a deeper insight into the mind of the protagonist, even if they don't move the plot along much. Luckily, for the audience, the ensemble is charismatic and talented, leaving each song resonating in the black box theatre.
The cast is comprised of professional and college actors, with some college actors so talented that they blur the lines between the two denominations. Take Mr. Spoljarick's booming voice for instance; he sings, "Sailing" with tremendous intensity and professionalism.
As the leading lad, Mr. Wascavage is not to be outdone, blessing Pittsburgh with his voice once again. He has recently been seen in Up And Awayat the Pittsburgh CLO. His stage mother Mimi certainly "Makes Things Fine." Ms. Toth stops the show with her ballad "The Music Still Plays On." Truly, I could have listened to that song on and on and on again. Another performer making her Pittsburgh rounds and playing the homeless Lisa, DREW LEIGH WILLIAMS asks for, or rather demands, "Change" with her rousing and pitch perfect voice.
This show is not without its shortcomings, but for every one of those, there are twelve other aspects to be lauded. This production makes use of puppets in a number of scenes, including Mr. Bungee's frog puppet and Schwinn's self-puppet. Although not Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog, the puppeteers and puppets in this show could have used a little more finesse when it came to puppeteering, the art and the mechanics behind the cloth to create the illusion of an inanimate life.
Additionally, in some scenes, florescent hospital lights lower from the ceiling and focus the attention on the hospital bed underneath; however, the airflow in the theatre appeared to cause the lights to sway back and forth, causing an undue distraction from the actors.
The show is single act, 90 minutes of "Heart and Music," which inspires and intrigues even the youngest of audience members. (As a parental warning, this show would probably be equivalent to a PG-13 movie for some language and themes!)
Although the run concludes on May 27, the story will live on in the hearts and minds of those fortunate enough to witness this Front Porch Theatricals production. A spectacular organization that brings to life lesser-known works of theatre to a deserving and adoring Pittsburgh audience, Front Porch Theatricals is on a rolewith their productions. I can't wait to see where they take us next! To see or not to see score: 7/9; Recommended Show
Photo by: Martha Smith