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Sunday, August 18, 2013

CenterStage Brings "A New Brain" to Entertaining, Resonant Life


Rusty Henle, Frank Goodloe, Jeremy Moon, Jennifer Poliskie, AW Johnson,
Jason Cooper, Jordan Price, Lauren McCombs, Stephen G. Smith, Tymika Prince,
Angie Renae Hopperton and Jennifer Pennington in A New Brain. Photo – CenterStage.

A New Brain
Music and Lyrics by William Finn
Book by William Finn and James Lapine
Directed by John R Leffert

A review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

CenterStage is producing a little bit of everything for their current theater season, mostly crowd pleasers like Legally Blonde and The Sound of Music, and I imagine there is a lot of energy going into each highly anticipated production. Right now, their current effort is A New Brain, a semi-autobiographical musical fantasy depicting a man’s struggle with a rare illness. Even though it is a slightly obscure musical, there’s no doubt that it will be entertaining and fun.

As Gordon, a man who is overcome by a rare disease, Jordan Price provides a lead who is relatable as well as funny. This is a character modeled after the author’s own life, and Price manages to carry this responsibility with charisma. Whether he is belting from a hospital bed or dancing with the rest of his ensemble, Price provides a strong lead, from his first moments of pounding a keyboard to the meandering of a dazed coma. He brings out all the frustration and nerves of a suffering patient and gives it everything he’s got.

Other key players within the production range from waitresses, hospital staff, close friends and lovers. Providing the most memorable of these random players is Jason Cooper as the temperamental Mr. Bungee, who is decked out in an outlandish frog costume. Pessimistic and cynical, Cooper brings lots of laughs as he taunts Gordon throughout his illness-driven hallucinations. Lauren McCombs and Anthony Johnson are a riot as Nancy D and Richard, the two nurses who tend to Gordon’s every need. Johnson shines in shimmering sequence during “Eating Myself Up Alive,” a glitzy soulful number in the midst of Gordon’s coma, while Ms. McCombs provides little moments of comedy with her high-pitched soprano. Tymika Prince as the random homeless woman provides moments of gusto as she looks for change both literally and figuratively.

Choreography and staging for this show was particularly campy as actors whirl hospital beds and each other around the stage. The play strengthens as Gordon slips into his coma from brain surgery. Prefaced by the emotional number “Throw It Out,” sung with strong burst of energy by Jennifer Pennington as Gordon’s mother, the play begins to take on a different shape. Stephen T. Smith as Roger, Gordon’s lover, provides a solo for “A Really Lousy Day in the Universe.” A song about loss and mourning what is beyond our control, the lyrics take on a completely different meaning with recent events in the theatre community.

In view of such losses, this is a really important musical to be performed right now. I encourage every colleague, peer and member of the theater community who is grieving to see this play. With A New Brain, CenterStage has crafted a production dedicated to show the lighter side of illness and how we can overcome it and gain inspiration from it.

A New Brain

August 15-25, 2013

Center Stage at JCC
Linker Auditorium
3600 Dutchmans Lane
Louisville, KY 40205
502-238-2739

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