note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Beverly Creasey
It’s a no-brainer. William Finn’s delightful musical about love, commitment, good friends, unrelenting mothers, nasty nurses and frogs is getting a spiffy outing at the Cambridge Y ---but only through next weekend, so galvanize that grey matter and get a ticket! A NEW BRAIN is funny, smart, a wee bit naughty and chock full of lively music directed by Jennifer Honen Galea and clever staging by James Tallach.
Jim Fitzpatrick heads up the energetic cast as the songwriter for a domineering frog with a television show for kids (redeemed by Gary Ryan’s chipper performance). When his brain needs a surgical overhaul, he’s subjected to the indignities, and the ironies of managed care.
Anne Velthouse gets wonderful laughs in two roles: as a snippy waitress and a steely-eyed nurse. Joe Lanza introduces himself as “the good nurse” and the aforementioned Florence Nightingale as “the bitchy one.” Lucky Lanza gets one of the show’s most deliciously outrageous songs. Finn writes hip, caustic little songs just this side of cynical. Who wouldn’t love ditties that rhyme “herd” with “four letter word.”
Kendra Kachadoorian gets the showstopper as the formidable homeless woman who even has the nerve to accost the audience for change. “I’m not asking for hugs,” she sings, “Just money to buy more drugs.” She has a powerhouse voice and acts the heck out of the role, making the character surprisingly sympathetic as well as comedic.
Peri Chouteau could read the phone book, as they say, and she’d break you up. Here she’s the songwriter’s best friend and fellow frog employee. Aaron Velthouse and Robert Case are hilarious as the hospital chaplain who doesn’t seem to understand that the patient is Jewish and the doctor who doesn’t seem to understand that the situation is serious. Mary O’Donnell gets fabulous mileage out of the controlled hysteria of mothers everywhere who don’t want to believe their children are in trouble. She gets a grand cleaning/denial song in a slinky black dress. Nicholas Nunez hits all the right notes as the songwriter’s beau. He delivers the beautiful “Lousy Day in the Universe” song with poignancy and style.
If laughter is the best medicine, it’s followed closely by musical theater—and you’ll leave A NEW BRAIN feeling better than you did when you came in. That’s my prognosis.