This review of A New Brain at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 8 (2018) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
A New Brain
Music & Lyrics by William Finn
Book by William Finn & James Lapine
Director & Choreographer: Barrie Gelles
Assistant Choreographer: Adrian Rifat
Director of Production: Scott A. Cally
Music Director: Yi-Hsuan Chi
Production Stage Manager: Dominic Cuskern
Lighting Designer: Scott A. Cally
Costume Designer: Hayley Zimmerman
Set Designer: Jason Pointek
Props Designer: Gabrielle Giacomo
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
A New Brain is a musical written by William Finn shortly after his having successfully undergone surgery to repair an arteriovenous malformation. It contains too many songs (32 numbers), too many scenes, and a particularly unlikeable, neurotic, sarcastic, disagreeable main character. That character, Gordon Michael Schwinn (Jesse Manocherian), is given a second lease on life and says I feel "so much spring within me" but the truth is he is still the same miserable person he always was. He recognizes this at some point and says, "I'm still the same as I was. I still complain. I hope I'm different." But he isn't. His mother, Mimi Schwinn (Anette Michelle Sanders) threw out his books while cleaning his apartment, and when he happened upon them being sold by a Homeless Lady (Laura Cetti) for $2.00 each, instead of being happy he found his books, which held great sentimental value for him, he refused to pay her saying, "I'm not paying for my own books." This gives you an example of what a cheap creep this guy is so the audience doesn't particularly celebrate when he's given the opportunity to continue writing more songs.
The cast is extremely talented. Anette Michelle Sanders (Mimi) sings a moving rendition of "The Music Still Plays On" and Laura Cetti (Homeless Lady) is equally impressive singing "Change." Samantha Schiffman is very charismatic as the Waitress who reminds us "Calamari" is not a fish even though it is listed as The Fish of the Day on the menu. The standout performer in the show is Jim Roumeles, who is Mr. Bungee, the director, producer, and star of his own children's television show, for whom Gordon writes mediocre songs such as "Frogs Have So Much Spring." I was particularly taken with Mr. Roumeles' frog costume, dance moves, and all the numbers he sang. The big production numbers, which included "Heart & Music," "Time," and "I Feel So Much Spring" were well-produced but there wasn't a song out of the 32 that, upon first hearing, made me say to myself, "I would sure like to buy the CD to hear that number again." That being said, I am certain there are a few gems in there you might like.
A New Brain was first produced Off-Broadway in 1998 at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The musical was also presented, after multiple rewrites by Finn and Lapine, as part of the Encores! Off-Center stages concert series at the New York City Center in 2015. The show can now be seen at The Gallery Players through February 18, 2018. Tickets are $25.00 for Adults; $20.00 for Children 12 and under and Senior Citizens. You can purchase them by visiting www.galleryplayers.com or by calling OvationTix at 212-352-3101.