Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Head Cast - A New Brain - Musical Review

A New Brain - Acting Up Stage at the Berkeley Street Theatre - Toronto, ON - *** (out of 5 stars)
Music and Lyrics by William Finn, Book by William Finn and James Lapine, Directed by Daryl Cloran, Choreographed by Marc Kimelman
Runs until March 1st 2009

The young upstart company Acting Up Stage has already done well last year with A Man of No Importance and Edges and now brings William Finn's A New Brain to Toronto. While not exactly a classic, it has developed a cultish following so it was nice to get to see it here. I only know Finn really for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee while James Lapine is at this point legendary (in my eyes) for writing the libretto for Sunday in the Park With George and Into The Woods amongst many others. However A New Brain has some great moments and a few catchy songs, but it's not quite a spectacular show like the writers other shows, despite the fantastic Canadian cast trying their hardest.

A terrific Steven Gallagher (above, CanStage's It's A Wonderful Life) heads the cast as a man who becomes sick and... well, needs a new brain. He writes jingles for a kids show during the day, but really wants to write his big musical, and the songs in the show float between him, his lover, his mother, his best friend, and the doctors and nurses that treat him. Oh, and there's a singing frog (from the children's show he works at).

Maybe it was the direction but while the musical itself had some highlights, overall, I felt underwhelmed from the show and the story, despite the fact that I liked the idea and thought there was a lot of potential.

What makes this show worth watching though is the fabulous cast of some of Toronto's best musical performers. Patricia Zentilli (above, CanStage's Little Shop of Horrors), Thom Allison (below standing, pretty much every musical in Toronto it seems like), Barbara Barsky (Urinetown, Assasins), and Juan Chioran (Toronto's The Producers) and Paula Wolfson (White Christmas) are all musical veterans and they give the show a nice solid base with their performances and their soaring voices.

Allie Hughes (above left, with Graves, Allison and Gallagher), one of my faves from How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria, seemed less certain and trying to stay afloat with her esteemed colleagues but I'll give it to early nervousness, because she has a nice voice and there's something about her that I want to see her succeed.

Other newcomers Jonathan Tam(above with Hughes and Zentilli) and Parris Greaves, have great voices and lots of potential.

Steven Gallagher has an AMAZING voice and is such a likable lead and while he has some nice solos, the show works best during the ensemble songs and the full power of the talented cast is on display.

Steve Ross, Steven Gallagher and Thom Allison:

Paula Wolfson:

Juan Chioran:

Barbara Barsky:
Photographs by Joanna McDermott
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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