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TheaterHop: A New Brain

Didn’t see CMTS’ production of
A New Brain? Too bad! Bwog daily editor Alexandra Muhler wants to tell you what you missed.

A New Brain is, in a few ways, typical musical theater. The lead spends most of the show’s two hours in a gown. The ballads are sincere and softly lit. In all, there are about two spoken lines in the play. And, most upsettingly, audience participation is forced at every turn.

But A New Brain is also quirkier than your average musical. The gown donned by Gordon (Ross Ramone), the frustrated songwriter at the center of the play, is a hospital gown, worn as he undergoes an improbably named “craniotomy.”  The moments of cast-crowd interaction toy with the standards accepted in such exchanges—first row audience members will be sung to, chastised, and sometimes even forced to sing along.

However, the mushy incoherence of bad musical theater rarely seeps into this production. Though the beginning of the second act lags a little with a string of earnest solos, the show is dominated by a crisp aesthetic.

To begin, Claire Halberstadt’s choreography is brisk and eclectic. During the many numbers that feature the entire cast, the tiny black box is crammed with ten dancers, snapping, sashaying, and often delightfully seeming to freestyle in a frenetic circle around the hospital bed, which is seamlessly wheeled on and off the little stage several times.

The most delightful boogie belongs to Alex Harris-Hertel, in a bit role as the hospital chaplain. Though he never quite hits the beat, and though he apologizes for his “spastically twitching” performance in his program bio, his ecstatic moves have a dorm room dance party pedigree that should endear them to any college audience.

The strongest performances are similarly varnished in the veneer of caricature. Danaya Almenares-Mesa, as Gordon’s fag hag (all the characters are archetypes), truly knows how to wear a power-pantsuit. She dances with a business lady’s boxiness; her most climactic singing moment, in “Whenever I Dream,” has her sounding like a hummingbird with an amp.

Yonatan Gebeyehu, as a soggily sympathetic nurse with a bitchy side, stares with demonic intention at the very attractive Gordon and his boyfriend, Roger (Jonathon Grant). He flounces false man-boobs and a little tummy under hospital scrubs in his many crowd-pleasing romps.

Most literally cartoonish is Mr. Bungee (Kurt Kanazawa, a former Bwog editor), a man dressed up as a frog dressed up as a children’s television host. In a green vinyl jacket and plastic frame glasses, he struts like a greaser on his high school parking lot. Without question, he is the worst boss imaginable, and poor Gordon’s crisis is quite understandable after you’ve seen his soul sucked by writing Mr. Bungee’s insipid songs.

The costumes (designed by Hilary Baboukis) and props (by Cayle Pietras) are minimal and almost purposefully janky, but nevertheless add to the cartoon effect. Mr. Bungee’s shoes are topped with green frog-foot flaps. During a song about horseracing, cast members feign galloping on sticks with felt horse heads tacked on the end. And the hospital bed is imaginatively transformed into a sailboat for a rapidfire digression into song.

Though this review arrives too late to serve as a recommendation, “A New Brain” is a sugared up spoonful of toe-tapping revelry, pleasing to fans and even to this detractor of the musical genre. For those who can’t bear the comic animation that makes this show so remarkable, there is a fairly hot man-on-man shower scene. If the implication of nudity can’t get you to the theatre, nothing can.

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  • um. says:

    @um. I loved that effin’ show.

    No doubt.

    great acting, singing, cast cohesion… everything was on point!

    congrats to them!

  • wawa says:

    @wawa Emily Kaplan (the Director) was also amazing. Good investigative reporting there… Her name doesn’t appear once.

    1. it's not says:

      @it's not an “investigative” piece. It’s a theater review.

  • sooohot says:

    @sooohot ross ramone is soooooo hot

  • so good says:

    @so good this review does not do justice the play justice. it was very good. definitely one of the better campus productions i’ve seen

    1. so good* says:

      @so good* i am also an idiot.

  • heart& says:

    @heart& But you’re right. Emily Kaplan did an incredible job with what is typically a so-so musical. And Yonatan and Danaya’s permformances were just incredible. I could watch those two all day.

  • wow says:

    @wow way to not review the lead characters AT ALL

  • famazing says:

    @famazing Giselle was incredible! what a great talent!!

  • um. says:

    @um. I second that!!!!

    Uno, dos!

    That voice… powerful and sturdy.

    ie. AMAZING

  • Jon says:

    @Jon Although I admit I did not see “A New Brain” and cannot speak to the exact context in which the term was used, a craniotomy is an actual medical procedure.

    So was it “improbably named”?

  • Chief Bromden says:

    @Chief Bromden EAT PILLOW, MCMURPHY!

  • uhhh... says:

    @uhhh... For reals though, why was Kaplan not recognized? 1. The direction was fantastic. 2. She’s only a freshman. That’s impressive, people. Can we give this chick some props?

  • uhhh says:

    @uhhh sugar musicals ugh

  • WTF says:

    @WTF how could anyone review this show without saying anything about the lead performances? ross ramone carried the show and barely ever left the stage. he was incredible, and so was the guy who played his boyfriend. they were both on a different level. and forget the shower scene, that kiss at the end was HOT!!!!

  • Bwog says:

    @Bwog …really needs to stop embarrassing itself with its theatre reviews. Who sends a “detractor of the musical genre” to review a musical? That is some sad, amateur shit.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I wonder whether the reviewer even saw the production. I agree with the previous comments that, in a review of a performance, mention of the lead or perhaps the director is very important. This article was essentially a synopsis with purile commentary on costume design, not a review in the least.

    The reviewer should have mentioned that William Finn wrote and composed “A New Brain” as a semi-autobiographical piece. After recovering from brain surgery, he wrote “A New Brain” and went on to write the tony award-winning musical “The 25th Annual Spelling Bee.”

    Ross Ramone and Jonnathon Grant carried the show, with very demanding songs and subject matter. Moreover, Kurt Kanazawa and Giselle Gastell’s meticulously trained voices were an asset to the production.

  • emilyw says:

    @emilyw this graphic reminds me of the electric company. what a great show.

  • ... says:

    @... Hey Bwog,

    Have you thought about maybe talking to CUPAL to try to find some reviewers who actually know something about theatre? This is the latest in an embarassingly long line of poorly written reviews by people who don’t demonstrate any knowledge of how a review should be written, or even the basics of what makes a show good or bad. Musical reviews in particular seem to be seriously lacking (see the disgraceful Into the Woods review for illustration).

  • hey says:

    @hey if you think you’d be a good reviewer, e-mail bwog and ask to be given an assignment.

    or bitch. that works too.

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