A New Brain

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A New Brain
CD Cover of the Original Cast Recording
Music William Finn
Lyrics William Finn
Book William Finn
James Lapine
Basis The life of William Finn
Productions 1998 Off-Broadway
2002 St. Louis
2015 Encores! Off-Center
International productions

A New Brain is a musical with music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Finn and James Lapine. Though many of Finn's previous musicals were to some extent autobiographical, A New Brain dealt directly with his own harrowing experience with arteriovenous malformation and the healing power of art.[1] The hero of the musical, Gordon Schwinn, worries that he may not live to complete his work. Finn wrote many of the songs soon after his release from the hospital. The musical premiered Off-Broadway in 1998 and has been revived in the U.S., England and elsewhere.


A New Brain started as a "series of songs that Bill Finn wrote after he left the hospital", with a concert of those songs produced at The Public Theater.[2] A fully staged workshop production was held in 1996 and again in 1997 and included contributions by Lapine.[2]

The musical was first produced Off-Broadway at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, with previews beginning on May 14, 1998 and closed on October 11, 1998.[3] The production was directed by Graciela Daniele and featured a cast headed by Malcolm Gets (Gordon Michael Schwinn) and Christopher Invar (Roger Delli-Bovi), including Michael Mandell (Richard), Penny Fuller (Mimi Schwinn), Mary Testa (Lisa), Kristin Chenoweth (Waitress/Nancy D), Chip Zien (Mr. Bungee), Liz Larsen (Rhoda), John Jellison (Doctor), and Keith Byron Kirk (Minister).[4] Lovette George was an understudy for Rhoda, Waitress, and Nancy D.[1] Christopher Innvar left the show in June 1998 due to vocal problems, and Norm Lewis was to sing the role of Roger on the recording.[3]

A cast recording was made under the RCA Victor label with Norm Lewis singing the role of Roger.[2][3][5]

A New Brain was next performed at Rice University during the Sid Richardson Players' 1999-2000 season. It was also done at UC Berkeley BareStage during the 2000-2001 season, which transferred to Shotgun Players in 2001. [6] The show was also produced in March 2002 in St. Louis, Missouri at New Line Theatre, then premiered in the UK at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2005, with the English premiere in September 2006 in Littlehampton, West Sussex.[7]

The musical was presented as part of the Encores! Off-Center staged concert series June 24–27, 2015 at the New York City Center. The production included multiple rewrites by Finn and Lapine and was directed by Lapine. It starred Jonathan Groff as Gordon and featured Dan Fogler as Mr. Bungee, Ana Gasteyer as Mimi, and Aaron Lazar as Roger.[8]

A new, updated cast recording has been recorded by the cast of the Encores! Off-Center production (with the exception of Fogler, who was filming a movie in London at the time of the recording and was replaced by Christian Borle as Mr. Bungee) and was released February 5, 2016 by PS Classics. Unlike the original recording, this two-disc set contains the full show, including over 15 minutes of previously unrecorded music.[9]


Songwriter Gordon Schwinn works at his piano to meet a deadline, irritated because he must write a song about spring for the children's television host Mr. Bungee, who dresses as a frog. Gordon takes a break from his writing and meets his best friend Rhoda at a restaurant. During lunch, he clutches his head and falls face first into his meal. Rhoda calls an ambulance, and Gordon is taken to the hospital, where he's administered an MRI. His neurosurgeon tells him that he has an arteriovenous malformation, and needs an operation. If he doesn't have it, he could die or never regain the use of his faculties.

While in the hospital, Gordon contemplates his situation, with his mother, Rhoda, and his boyfriend Roger. Gordon's greatest fear is dying with his greatest songs still inside him. After the operation, Gordon falls into a coma and while in that state, he hallucinates a surrealistic musical-within-a-musical starring the people in his life; and ultimately, the hallucination-Bungee leads Gordon back to consciousness and to Roger.[10] He recovers slowly and his near death experience teaches him to re-evaluate and better appreciate the people and relationships in his life. With his life at last in balance, he is able to write again.

Character List and Notable Casts[edit]

Character 1998 Original Off-Broadway Cast 2015 City Center Encores! Off-Center Cast
Gordon Michael Schwinn
(A lovable but sarcastic composer)
Malcolm Gets Jonathan Groff
Mr. Bungee
(The slightly tyrannical director/producer/star of his own children’s television show)
Chip Zien Dan Fogler (Christian Borle on the recording)
Mimi Schwinn
(Gordon’s loving yet unstable mother)
Penny Fuller Ana Gasteyer
(Gordon’s agent and best-friend)
Liz Larsen Alyse Alan Louis
Roger Delli-Bovi
(Gordon’s charming and affectionate lover)
Christopher Innvar (Norm Lewis on the recording) Aaron Lazar
(A kind and compassionate nurse)
Michael Mandell Josh Lamon
(A homeless lady)
Mary Testa Rema Webb
Waitress/Nancy D.
(The waitress is overbearing; Nancy is a mean nurse)
Kristin Chenoweth Jenni Barber
Dr. Jafar Berensteiner
(An unsympathetic doctor)
John Jellison Bradley Dean
The Minister
(A somewhat clueless man of the cloth at the hospital)
Keith Byron Kirk Quentin Earl Darrington

Musical numbers[edit]

  • "Frogs Have So Much Spring Within Them" (The Spring Song)(Gordon)
  • "Calamari" (Gordon, Rhoda, Waitress, Mr. Bungee)
  • "911 Emergency/ I Have So Many Songs" (Richard, Waitress, Doctor, Rhoda, Minister, Lisa)
  • "Heart and Music" (Minister and Gordon with All but Mr. Bungee)
  • "Trouble in His Brain" (Doctor and Mimi)
  • "Mother's Gonna Make Things Fine" (Mimi and Gordon)
  • "Be Polite" (Mr Bungee)*
  • "I'd Rather Be Sailing" (Roger with Gordon)
  • "Family History" (Nancy D, Richard, Mimi)
  • "Gordo's Law of Genetics" (Nancy D, Doctor, Minister, Rhoda, Richard, Lisa)
  • "And They're Off" (Gordon with Nancy D, Doctor, Minister, Rhoda, Richard, Lisa)
  • "Roger Has Arrived" (Gordon, Roger, Mother, and Rhoda)*
  • "Just Go" (Gordon and Roger)
  • "Poor, Unsuccessful and Fat" (Richard, Gordon, Mr. Bungee)
  • "Sitting Becalmed in the Lee of Cuttyhunk" (All but Mr. Bungee)
  • "Craniotomy" (Doctor, Nancy D, Minister)*
  • "Invitation to Sleep in My Arms" (Gordon, Roger, Rhoda, Mimi)
  • "Change" (Lisa)
  • "Yes" (Gordon, Mr. Bungee with Nancy D, Doctor, Minister, Rhoda)
  • "In the Middle of the Room" (Gordon, Mimi)
  • "Throw It Out" (Mimi)
  • "Really Lousy Day in the Universe" (Roger and Lisa)
  • "Brain Dead" (Gordon and Roger)
  • "Whenever I Dream" (Rhoda and Gordon)
  • "Eating Myself Up Alive" (Richard with Nancy D, Doctor, Minister, Lisa)
  • "Music Still Plays On" (Mimi)
  • "Don't Give In" (Mr. Bungee with Gordon, Roger, Rhoda, Mimi)
  • "You Boys Are Gonna Get Me in Such Trouble/ Sailing (reprise)" (Richard, Gordon, Roger)
  • "Homeless Lady's Revenge" (Lisa, Gordon, Roger)
  • "Time" (Roger and Gordon)
  • "Time and Music" (Minister, Gordon, and All)
  • "I Feel So Much Spring" (Gordon, Lisa, Minister and All)

*Not included in the Original Cast Recording

Critical reception[edit]

Ben Brantley, in his review for The New York Times, wrote: "The problem is that for Mr. Finn (and probably, alas, for most people), happiness is definitely a blander muse than anxiety. A New Brain, which has been directed with wit and elegance by Graciela Daniele, has moments of captivating eccentricity. But watching it is often like passing a group of animated, slightly drunken revelers on the street: you're glad they have something to celebrate, but it's a private party, and you walk on by with a faint smile. Mr. Finn originally conceived what became A New Brain as a series of revue numbers, and it might have worked better in that format. As a story, shaped by Mr. Finn and his longtime collaborator, James Lapine, the show has a spliced-together feeling, a disjunctive quality at odds with the holistic spirit it seems to be aiming for."[11]


  1. ^ a b "'A New Brain' at the Newhouse, Background, Cast and Creatives". Lincoln Center Theater, accessed December 27, 2011
  2. ^ a b c Bishop, Andre. "'A New Brain' Liner Notes". MasterworksBroadway, accessed December 27, 2011
  3. ^ a b c Haun, Harry and Lefkowitz, David and Simonson, Robert. "William Finn's 'New Brain' To Matter At NY Newhouse Until Oct. 11". Playbill, June 30, 1998
  4. ^ Sommer, Elyse. "A Curtain up review" curtainup.com, June 1998
  5. ^ A New Brain Original Cast Recording" all music.com, accessed June 26, 2015
  6. ^ http://www.shotgunarchive.org/archive/seas10/newbrain/newbrain.cfm
  7. ^ Hand Picked Productions' website, Handpickedproductions.com, accessed December 27, 2011
  8. ^ Gans, Andrew; Viagas, Robert (May 19, 2015). "Tony Winner Among Stars Joining Jonathan Groff in A New Brain at Encores!". Playbill.com. Retrieved May 25, 2015. 
  9. ^ Hetrick, Adam (October 19, 2015). "A New Brain, With Jonathan Groff, Will Get New Two-Disc Cast Album". Playbill.com. Retrieved December 2, 2015. 
  10. ^ Miller, Scott. "Inside A New Brain", accessed July 11, 2014
  11. ^ Brantley, Ben. "Theater Review; A Romp Through the Valley of Death" The New York Times, June 19, 1998, accessed June 27, 2015


External links[edit]