A New Brain

By - May 6th, 2008 02:52 pm
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By Charise Dawson

A real-life personal experience with arteriovenous malformation and the healing power of art inspired a Broadway musical now debuts in Milwaukee. Windfall Theatre closes its 15th season with A New Brain at Village Church Arts, 130 E. Juneau Avenue. The production runs May 2 through 17.

William Finn’s A New Brain is a musical journey through the author’s real life. Finn, who was hospitalized shortly after winning Tony Awards for Falsettos, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and the musical is an attempt to recreate what it was like when he thought he would die and ended up living.

The main character, Gordon Michael Schwinn, is a middle-aged songwriter who becomes ill with a brain disease. Actor Larry Birkett captures the characters’ struggle ably, balancing the news of his illness with the often exhausting comfort of his mother, lover and those around him. Meanwhile, he is charged with the task of writing the song that he hopes will become his legacy before undergoing a dangerous and risky operation.

Supporting roles include Mr. Bungee, a children’s television star, who torments Schwinn’s psyche by telling him he is an artistic failure. The character is played by Thomas Rosenthal, who wears a bright frog costume and roams the stage on a green vintage bicycle.

Roger Delli-Bovi is Schwinn’s lover, played by Marty McNamee. McNamee creates some of the play’s most vulnerable moments, including a song in which he invites Schwinn to spend the night before his operation sleeping in his arms. When the character believes his lover will not recover from his operation, he delivers a truly memorable performance of “A Really Lousy Day in the Universe.”

Mimi Schwinn, the main character’s mother, is played by Marilyn White. White brings the perfect amount of sass and heart to the role, reminding the audience that a mother is a mother, no matter how old her son is.

David Flores brings laughter to the role of as Richard, Schwinn’s nurse – a quirky gay man with hilarious facial expressions and physicality and a strong, idiosyncratic bass voice to boot.

Tamara Martinsek, Kristin Pagnekopf, Carol Zippel, Bob Hirschi and Ben Geroge complete the cast. Each actor shines in his or her role while managing the ensemble pieces wonderfully. A personal favorite, “Gordo’s Law of Genetics,” is a funny number, showcasing the casts’ ability to coordinate various melodies and vocal parts. The musical direction by Chris Wszalek is solid, Kim O’Brien’s choreography is lively and thoughtful. Director Shawn Gulyas moves the action through the music seamlessly, a difficult and commendable task, considering the play’s complex settings and that it was almost completely sung-through. VS

A New Brain runs May 2 through 17 at Village Church Arts at 130 E. Juneau Avenue. For tickets and information, call Windfall Theatre’s box office at 414-332-3963.

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