Not much is funny about brain surgery — unless the subject’s in the hands of composer William Finn, who brought humor and warmth to AIDS in “Falsettos” and to orthography in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” In the musical “A New Brain,” he and collaborator James Lapine dramatize Finn’s struggle with a congenital brain condition.
Under the direction of Pamela Hill, the Gallery Players offer up Finn’s acerbic harmonies and witty lyrics in a breathless 90-minute package.
“A New Brain” approaches its subject matter with a musically inquiring mind. Gordon Michael Schwinn (Jeb Bigelow) struggles to write ditties for the children’s show “Mr. Bungee’s Lily Pad,” which stars a frog who’s an offstage tyrant (Stewart Bender). Gordon deals with the temporary absence of his lover Roger (Christopher Storer), his hovering mother Mimi (Eileen M. Howard) and his disease-induced hallucinations. Not to mention the terror of his risky medical procedure.
Finn’s score is almost entirely sung-through, and the cast of 10 handles it adroitly, accompanied by an orchestra of six directed by pianist Bryan Babcock. The antiphonal “Heart and Music,” the MRI-inspired “Sitting Becalmed in the Lee of the Cuttyhunk,” and the “Brain Dead” tango are highlights.
Although it never rises to the emotional heights of “Falsettos” nor reaches the giddy delights of “Spelling Bee,” “A New Brain” offers tuneful thoughts on the healing power of art.