​’New Brain’ explores art, career, crisis

Musical at UD is rarely staged.

University of Dayton offers composer William Finn’s engaging, quirky, touching and rarely staged semi-autobiographical 1998 off-Broadway musical “A New Brain” through March 28 in Kennedy Union Boll Theatre.

Featuring a libretto by Finn and James Lapine (“Falsettos,” “Into the Woods”), “New Brain” chronicles artistic ambition through the eyes of conflicted composer Gordon Michael Schwinn, who has grown tired of churning out songs for a children’s TV show. When Gordon suffers a seizure and is ultimately diagnosed with a brain disorder (arteriovenous malformation), he reassess his pursuits and purpose with help from his agent/confidant Rhoda, his boyfriend Roger, his fussy mother Mimi, the peculiar homeless woman Lisa, and irritable TV host Mr. Bungee.

“The issue in this show concerning artists and where they place art in their lives is so important,” said director Gina Kleesattel, whose previous UD directorial credits include “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Urinetown: The Musical.” “What artists will sacrifice or what drives them as artists is fascinating to consider. And I think this show is particularly important for college students to see as they begin to plan their lives. Where will their art fit? Will they work for free? Are they going to work somewhere they don’t think highly of? There is never a right or wrong answer because what works for each person is very different. I think artists of any sort will recognize the intriguing questions Gordon faces. However, non-artists will still find Gordon’s world extremely interesting.”

“I love the themes of time and change and how they’re almost fatefully intertwined,” said Christopher Delanis, who portrays Gordon and appeared last season as the lovestricken Hero in “Forum.” “The idea of change giving something or someone more time to exist or how time can change so much of what’s around you or your overall personality is something I cherish. It makes me not take anything for granted, because you never know when those things can change. Gordon is someone who just wants to be heard but is frustrated with the guidelines he’s been given. He’s a composer at heart but feels held back by his inability to shine. It isn’t until the end he realizes his biggest hurdle was himself.”

The cast also consists of Michele Rabara as Lisa, Annie Scott as Rhoda, Amanda Carter as Waitress/Nancy D., Norb Wessels as Mr. Bungee, Brennan Paulin as Richard, Kevin Schaefer as Dr. Jafar Berensteiner, Maddy Wood as Minister, Jarrod Wurm as Roger Delli-Bovi, and Jenna Gomes as Mimi Schwinn.

“There are a wide variety of musical styles in the show but not in a jarring way,” Kleesattel said. “There are definitely Stephen Sondheim influences, but overall, the music thematically really connects the story emotionally.”

Diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation in 1992, Finn is best known for his Tony-winning score for “Falsettos” and Tony-nominated score for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” His latest musical is “Little Miss Sunshine,” a work that opened off-Broadway in 2013 based on the Academy Award-winning film of the same name.

Contact this contributing writer at rflorence2@gmail.com.