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Theatre / A New Brain

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The cover art of the 2015 Encores! revival of A New Brain.

"All the songs I never wrote
Fizzle and remain
All the songs I did not start
All the rhymes I never made
All the stories I delayed in telling
Are welling up inside my brain
I should explain
I have so many songs!"
Gordon Schwinn, "A New Brain"

A New Brain is a musical with music by William Finn and book by Finn and James Lapine. The show is largely autobiographical, drawing from Finn's own experience with a condition called arteriovenous malformation. The musical is about a composer named Gordon Schwinn who has dreams of writing Broadway musicals but is currently stuck composing songs for a children's show star named Mr. Bungee, whom Gordon despises. While writing one day, he faints suddenly and is taken to the hospital where he is diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, the same condition Finn had. He fears that if he doesn't survive the risky operation he must undergo, he will die without ever having reached his full potential as an artist. The cast consists of Gordon, his mother Mimi, his friend and agent Rhoda, his boyfriend Roger, a cruel-hearted nurse named Nancy D, a much kinder nurse named Richard, an unsympathetic doctor, and a minister.

The play ran off-Broadway in 1998, featuring Malcolm Gets as Gordon, Penny Fuller as Gordon's mother Mimi, Chip Zien as Mr. Bungee, and Kristin Chenoweth as the waitress/Nancy D. It was revived by the Encores! concert series in 2015, featuring Jonathan Groff as Gordon, Dan Fogler as Mr. Bungee, and Ana Gasteyer as Mimi.

A New Brain contains examples of:

  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Averted.
  • Bury Your Gays: Averted, despite the whole musical seemingly building to this point.
  • Coming-Out Story: Averted. All of Gordon's friends and family know he's gay and in a relationship with Roger.
  • Disappeared Dad: It's revealed in "And They're Off" that, after years of gambling and domestic violence, Gordon's dad left the family, remaining in contact with his son only through letters.
  • Grief Song: Mimi sings "The Music Still Plays On" when she thinks (incorrectly) that her son is dead.
  • Final Love Duet: "Sailing (reprise)".
  • "I Want" Song: "Heart and Music" for Gordon and "Change" for the homeless woman.
  • Jewish Mother: Mimi
  • Lineage Comes from the Father: Briefly parodied in "Family History" and "Gordo's Law of Genetics"; when Mimi is answering question's about Gordon's family medical history, she claims that "anything that's wrong is his father's."
  • Minor Character, Major Song: The homeless woman's "Change" would likely qualify.
  • No Antagonist
  • The Gambling Addict: Gordon's father, as established in "And They're Off".
    Gordon: Isn't life funny?
    People lose money
    And have fun
    Betting, of course, is
    Hell on the horses
    And on families where the betting is done
    It's a joke to believe someone's won
  • The Song Before the Storm: "In the Middle of the Room (part 2)" fits this best.
  • Queer Romance: Gordon and Roger.
  • Sung-Through Musical