A New Brain is a musical that is rarely seen on stage. The complexity of William’s Finn score in conjunction with the emotional heft of James Lapine’s book makes it difficult to mount a production. However, a recent production, produced in collaboration by Camberwell Grammar and Popular Mechanicals, has proved otherwise.
Director Ben Giraud presents a simplistic vision in adapting the piece. This is ideal for a text like this, as no glitz or glamour can distract from the engaging complexities that have been established by Finn and Lapine. His choice to use shadow play is highly inventive, both as commentary of what is being discussed on stage (the appearance of Gordon’s father), as well as for situations in real time (shower scene between Gordon and Roger). Giraud has a very attuned eye not only for the stage, but also analysis of text. This is very clearly demonstrated by his careful staging of this show – a massive asset to this production and a directorial talent to be watched.
Musical director Joshua James Webb must be commended on his leadership of an orchestra that was very tight, with no issues regarding tuning or rhythm to be apparent. Finn’s score is very diverse. It consists of ballads, up-tempos, and even some Spanish-inspired tunes. This poses a great challenge musically, and the band under Webb’s direction handled it beautifully. Webb’s work with the performers in the ensemble and solo singing was also particularly excellent, with the tight harmony work executed well. Choreography by Adam Martino and Alexia Brinsley is energetic, offering audiences relief from the more dramatic, poignant moments of the show.
Harry Prouse portrays the protagonist Gordon, a young composer struggling with his chances of death with great truth and honesty. Prouse very clearly showed the feverish tenacity of the character. By this choice, Gordon can be seen as an individual who has an immense passion for his profession, which, as an audience member is truly inspiring to watch.
Zuleika Khan offers comedic relief as Lisa, a homeless woman, and she made the role very much her own. Her musical number ‘Change’ was definitely a show highlight, with her audience interactions being hilariously blunt. Stephanie John shone as Gordon’s agent and best friend, Rhoda. With a glowing stage presence, John successfully captured Rhoda’s struggle to balance her business priorities with her personal life.
John Reed as Mr. Bungee, the difficult star of his own children’s program, performed the role perfectly. The underlying disingenuous sensibility Reed chose to possess made the audience question his integrity, not only as a children’s entertainer but also as a human being. Michael Linder as the larger than life ‘nice nurse’ Richard was hilarious. He was definitely an audience favourite, and his one liners throughout the show were always memorable. Penny Larkins as the optimistic, but unstable mother Mimi was heartbreaking. Her number ‘The Music Plays On’ was one of the standout numbers of the show.
Put simply, Adam Di Martino as Roger was excellent. A performer with great ease and naturalness on the stage, Di Martino excels as a young man struggling to deal with not only the circumstances of his boyfriend, but also his own. His song ‘Sailing’ was touchingly performed.
A New Brain stands alone as a brilliant piece of musical storytelling, and this recent production has done it justice. Well directed, well crafted and well performed, this adaption was definitely one to be seen.