A New Brain – Music & Lyrics by William Finn – Book by William Finn & James Lapine – Gallery Players – Sir John Mills Theatre till Saturday 26th Oct
This may not be the best written musical you will ever see – A New Brain started as a concert of songs and in some ways still feels a bit like that – but you won’t see a musical more sincerely staged or with more commitment from its cast and Director – Wade Abiltt, who has possibly given it more love than it deserves, but nevertheless has produced an entertaining evening in the company of a very talented group of people.
A New Brain is based on the story of Finn’s own experiences in hospital – and on a number of songs he wrote after the experience, which were formed into a musical with his writing partner James Lapine, which went on to run for a couple of years on Broadway in the late 90’s.
The plot follows the fortunes of Gordon Schwinn – a fairly standard composer who writes for a children’s TV show but has aspirations for bigger things – as he faces and undergoes brain surgery. The musical has no script as such and is basically a collection of songs shaped round the various characters in Gordo’s life – including his boyfriend Roger, his mother Mimi, the Hospital Cconsultant – and some random people he meets along the way including a Waitress, a Homeless Woman and a Priest. All get a nice solo to show off their skills as well as plenty of chorus work which is directed tightly and with a lot of flare.
Every so often the mood is lightened by Mr Bungee – a carton frog played with great aplomb by Ryan Cope, who comes in and out of the action to pass comment or sing the songs Gordo has written for him.
Choosing to perform on a minimal set means that all the attention is focused on the actors – and they all put their heart and soul into the numbers. There’s some great choreography and some wonderful voices – especially Jan Needle as the Homeless Woman and Roger (Michel Hayward-Smith) whose solo I’d Rather Be Sailing is probably the best number in the show.
Dayle Saunders does a great job as the main protagonist Gordo – and by the second half really gets into his stride with some great comic expressions and singing the lead in one of the other highlights – Time & Music .
Due to the flimsy writing it’s quite hard to engage with the characters emotionally – and in some respects most are two dimensional caricatures anyway – but maybe that’s not the point of the production. Ablitt manages to bring out as much humour as he can – and there is no denying the commitment, or the work that has gone in to this production, including a hidden but very impressive live band led by Olly Wood.
If you want to hear some great singing, see some quirky choreography, and experience a cast really enjoying themselves – this is the one for you.