Jonathan Groff, Ana Gasteyer, and cast are killing it over at New York City Center Encores! Off-Center’s production of William Finn’s A New Brain directed by the legendary James Lapine. This has to be one of the strangest stories I’ve ever been told through song and dance, I don’t quite know what to make of this beautiful score, especially my favorite song, “Heart and Music”. The music and lyrics are just lovely and I’m still humming and singing these songs in my brain days later. What I do know is it had my heart from almost the first note sung. And if I thought too long and hard with this brain of mine, I’d wonder what William Finn was thinking when he wrote this (although very pleased he did). And I’d understand why it has not had a more successful run. It’s bizarre. It’s touching. It’s sad. It’s funny. It’s surprisingly upfront and natural with it’s depiction of a not-so-perfect gay relationship (Happy Pride everyone). And it’s happily strange, how it explores the world when Groff’s Gordon Schwinn suffers from a medical mishap in his brain which requires an emergency surgery. Rhoda, a TV producer and friend, wonderfully played by Alyse Alan Louis, rushes him to the hospital within minutes of the beginning of this musical. The magnificent Ana Gasteyer arrives playing his mother furiously and fabulously singing incredible song after magnificent song, both lovingly and angrily. His boyfriend (or is it his on-the-outs boyfriend? I couldn’t quite tell), a handsome Aaron Lazar, also arrives, albeit on the late side of caring, after singing the beautifully distant, “I’d Rather Be Sailing’. And ever present, although in a hallucinatory state, Mr. Bungee, a kids show personality and Gordon’s demanding boss, gleefully and mischievously played by Dan Fogler. Although it’s the homeless lady, Rema Webb, that almost steals the show with the amazing song “Change” mid show, not to mention, the funny duo of Richard, the nice nurse (Josh Lamon) and Nancy, the thin nurse (Jenni Barber) having a great time with their fun roles. All and all, the cast is spectacular, and the staging is perfection. I’ve never enjoyed a brain surgery and it’s aftermath so much.
Check out this video on YouTube: