If musicals were to be likened to desserts, A New Brain by Davine Productions, would be an Eton Mess.
This musical is a deliciously over-the-top array of sweetness and crunch and fancy, and it’s served heartily by another cohort of creatives drawn together by director/producer, David Gauci.
A New Brain, by William Finn, centres on the story of Gordon Schwinn (Daniel Hamilton), a hapless composer who dreams of writing a Broadway show but is instead ensnared in the realms of writing songs for children’s shows to survive. In particular, he is currently engaged to write songs for the children’s show producer, Mr Bungee (Adam Goodburn), despite despising the man in green. As Gordon’s business manager, Rhoda (Dee Farnell), is imploring Gordon to get the songs finished that Mr Bungee is waiting for, the composer suddenly has a bad turn due to suffering from an arteriovenous malformation in his brain. He then spends most of the show in hospital as he questions his plight, while key figures come in and out of focus from his mother, Mimi Schwinn (Catherine Campbell), to his lover, Roger Delli-Bovi (Lindsay Prodea).
Despite this rather unconventional setting for a musical, let alone a musical comedy, everything in A New Brain just works well together, just like the disparate ingredients of an Eton Mess.
There are flavours of every type of musical you’ve seen, with much style in common with Stephen Sondheim, as numbers shunt along, pushing those before them off stage while they carry us for a moment before being replaced by another. It is a delightful concoction of reflection and narrative, as Gordon adjusts to the major surgery he needs to survive and the thought that he might not get to write all the great songs he feels are inside him.
And yet there is nothing pompous here. All the characters are grounded and self-deprecating (except Mr Bungee, who simply hops along in his own world, immune from the struggles of others), with a generous handful of showstopping numbers along the way. Some of these numbers include, Heart and Music (Daniel Hamilton truly leads the chorus here, as he does so well throughout the show), Mother’s Gonna Make Things Fine and Music Still Plays On (Catherine Campbell owns the stage during these numbers especially during the latter), Sitting Becalmed In The Lee Of Cuttyhunk (the chorus arises together here for a tour de force, whipping up its own exquisite winds), and Change (sung with gospel-strength power by Lisa Simonetti, who plays Lisa the homeless lady).
Special mention goes to Prodea who holds court with aplomb through his numbers, especially A Really Lousy Day In The Universe and the piece de resistance, Sailing, which has its romantic power layered further by director David Gauci with some inspired, comedic staging.
That said, it is indeed unfair to be singling out performances because this is a strong cast, and in the words of Nice Nurse (Mark DeLaine), I’m gonna catch some hell for this.
But what would be even more unfair would be to celebrate the singing without due applause for the orchestra. Led by Peter Johns, this 6-piece group gave us the full Broadway experience. Every note, every change, were carried with perfection. Were it not for the stellar voices, one could happily pay just to listen to the music. Thank you, Peter Johns, Leanne Savill, Max Zilotto, Daniel Burgess, Sam Peng, and Louisa Giacomini.
This production has a simple set, all of which has been made of 100% compostible materials, with a few recyclable items crafted in a way to let them be used again. With some creative thrift, Gauci has made good use of centre stage where props (Angela Paul) and costumes (Carolyn Bosko) capture and direct our attention as we embark and disembark from song after song after song.
A New Brain is a night of rousing entertainment as we root for Gordon (thanks to Daniel Hamilton’s transcendent performance as his character transverse life, death, and life again) and laugh and chuckle our way through some of Broadway’s sweetest delights.
You can hear a full interview with David Gauci about his career, Davine Productions’ 10-year history, and A New Brain, in episode 385 of The Adelaide, titled: Davine Intervention In Adelaide Theatre.