Brain surgery? In a musical?
Call me old-fashioned, but when I first heard of the subject matter for this new mucial, I thought it was rather...well, strange. How could a composer handle writing effective music about brain surgery and then combine it with a story that...made sense. William Finn was able to handle it and then some in his masterpiece, "A New Brain".
The three-part introduction, which probably gets at least partially ignored by many, does a tremendous job of setting the tone for the musical. In the three or four minutes that are taken up my the introduction, there are about one-hundred different emotions expressed by various members of the cast. These emotions pop up again in reverse chronological order throughout the remainder of the musical. I thought it was fascinating how the first line and the last line of the musical, while they have the same musical structure and have all but three words in common ("Frogs have so much spring within them" to "I feel so much spring (within me)"), perfectly represent the journey taken by the main character throughout the course of the musical.
The first complete song is "Heart and Music" and that song alone is worth the $13.99 you pay for the entire CD. It begins as a duet between Gordon, the main character, and the minister, but gradually builds to an end filled with lush harmony provided by the entire cast. I could probably go on forever discussing each individual song, but that would take hours. And becasue each song seems to be better than the previous, I can't really mention any standouts.
When it comes to the cast, there are also no real standouts because each cast member is equally fabulous. Kristin Chenoweth, Chip Zien, Malcolm Gets, Mary Testa, Penny Fuller, Norm Lewis and the rest of the cast give performances of a lifetime. After Norm Lewis' sensitive rendition of the gorgeous "I'd Rather Be Sailing", I was nearly reduced to tears. Krsitin Chenoweth made me laugh with just her two verses in "Calamari". Mary Testa absolutely blew me away with "Change". And don't get me started on the show-stopping job done by Malcolm Gets on "And They're Off" and "I Feel So Much Spring"...
This album is a real gem. Buy it and give it a chance to grow on you. Although there's no denying this CD is for the open-minded and the people who have already experienced a wide range of musical theatre. If all you know is "Oklahoma" and "Guys & Dolls", you're probably not someone who can appreciate the the rich, effective blend between music and lyrics that is so truly rare these days or the skill it takes to take such a delicate, complicated story and weave it into that blend of music and lyrics. If however you are one of these people, I assure you that you'll fall in love with "A New Brain" as I did.
With the new musicals coming out today on Broadway (everything from "Footloose" to "Saturday Night Fever"), something as thought-provoking and intelligently written as "A New Brain" is a refreshing and welcomed surprise.