BWW Review: A NEW BRAIN at Tabard Theatre San Jose
A New Brain
A New Brain, with music and lyrics by William Finn ("Falsettos", "Spelling Bee"), is an eclectic musical with a group of songs that came about after Finn's own personal life-threatening hospitalization back in the 90's. Finn's collaboration with book writer James Lapine follows the fictional character Gordon as he untangles his life while his doctor operates to "untangle" his arteriovenous malformation. The show played Off-Broadway with the likes of Kristin Chenoweth(1998 and Jonathan Groff (2015).
In "New Brain," Gordon is a neurotic, frustrated songwriter who collapses and is rushed to the hospital. He quickly learns that he needs brain surgery. As he awaits the procedure his family and friends attempt to comfort him, sometimes being helpful and sometimes not so much. Between his frenzied mother, his cool headed boyfriend, and the demanding Mr. Bungee (a children's tv show for which Gordon writes) the scenes are as unpredictable as the music in the show. The score alternates between catchy numbers, wild madcap, and even hallucinatory production numbers. But, just as Gordon finds hope in the "chance for a new brain," so too does the score, with tender and heartfelt ballads.
The Tabard's production (directed by Kevin Kirby) has a minimalist take on scenery, but it works well in the intimate space. The show is tightly filled with musical numbers that music director, Samuel Cisneros, and crew navigate seamlessly.The cast of characters is well assembled and includes some standout performances.
Adrien Gleason, as Gordon, dives into a soup mix of emotions without hesitation. His vocals are clear, precise, and sustain the show from beginning to end. Gleason is impressive in how easily he handles the volume of material he must deliver and it's a challenge he is up to. Corey Miller, as Roger (Gordon's partner), is dewy-eyed as the concerned lover. Miller provides a calming contrast balance to Gleason's more frantic portrayal of one dealing with a health scare. Miller's resonant voice stands out particularly well in numbers like "Sailing" that highlight the emotional musicality in his performance. Together, both Gleason and Miller produce a chemistry that is palpable and engaging.
Imagine if your mother was the missing sister of Judy Dench and Rosemary Clooney and that's where Terri Weitze's performance, as Gordon's mother, would be. Weitze is everyone's "defend to the end" mom who's as fun to watch acting as she is a joy to hear singing. Her take on "The Music Still Plays On" is particularly outstanding.
Marla Cox, as Homeless Woman, provides an interesting voice on conscience in the production. Cox delivers an element of wisdom in an unconventional way and it's emotional and convincing. Musically, there are some fine moments that draw on gospel elements allowing Cox to show how skilled a performer she really is.
Tressa Bender, as Rhoda, and Wolfie Lewandowski, as Nancy & Waitress, craft some unique characters that provide further depth to the ensemble. Kevin Kirby (Mr. Bungee) provides some acerbic tongue-in-cheek humor as the frog-like children's entertainer that Gordon writes for. Kevin Browntein (Doctor/Minister) lends beautiful vocals in several numbers and Chris Fernandez (Richard) completes the cast with fun numbers like "Eating Myself Up Alive".
The music and production staff include: Samuel Cisneros & Doug Forsyth (Keyboards), Ron Bowman (Reeds), Tim Dowd (Horn), Jerald Bittle (Drums), Cathy Spielberger Cassetta (Producer), Jonathan Williams (Production Manager), Gary Ferguson (Choreographer), Tressa Bender (Assistant Director), Charles McKeithan (Technical Director/Properties), Joe Cassetta (Technical Consultant), Nicole Jacobus (Stage Manager/Sound Operator), Carsten Koester (Lighting Design & Operation/Sound Effects), Linda Lappin (Light Board Operator), Anthony Urbina (Sound Designer), Kathleen O'Brien (Costume Designer), Jenifer Hart (Scenic Painter), Barbara Reynolds (Program Layout)
The show runs without intermission and is about 90 minutes long. There is a parking garage right across the street. Due to construction in the general area follow the signs that point to the places to enter the theatre. There is a bar, so get there early and have a fun libation. Portions of the proceeds from this production go to charity: Services for Brain Injury (SBI) a local non-profit.
"A New Brain" opens January 10th and runs through Sunday, January 26th
Tabard Theatre Company is at 29 N San Pedro St, San Jose, CA 95110
For tickets call 408-679-2330 or online at tabardtheatre.org/tickets