Pittsburgh’s Boutique Professional Musical Theater Company
May 18-27, 2018
EARLIER THIS SEASON
ABOUT A NEW BRAIN
The healing power of art...
A New Brain is a musical with music and lyrics by William Finn and book by James Lapine, the Tony Award-winning authors of Falsettos. A New Brain is an energetic, sardonic, often comical musical about a composer during a medical emergency. Gordon collapses into his lunch and awakes in the hospital, surrounded by his maritime-enthusiast lover, his mother, a co-worker, the doctor, and the nurses. Reluctantly, he had been composing a song for a children's television show that features a frog—Mr. Bungee—and the specter of this large green character and the unfinished work haunts him throughout his medical ordeal.
Though many of Finn's previous musicals were to some extent autobiographical, A New Brain deals directly with his own harrowing experience and the healing power of art. 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.
* Actors Equity Association Member
REVIEWS FOR A NEW BRAIN
Stage review: 'A New Brain' soars with heart and music
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sharon Eberson
May 22, 2018
Gordon Schwinn is having a rough time of it. He is a songwriter reduced to writing for a puppet named Froggy. Gordo’s a prickly guy anyway, and now he’s having hallucinations — just before he passes out, head first into his spaghetti.
Among the many joys of “A New Brain,” a semiautobiographical musical by William Finn, is finding the extraordinary in the mundane and the humor in the most dire situations. Mr. Finn and co-creator James Lapine tap into the flaws-and-all humanity in each of the characters, and that makes them all the more approachable, even lovable.
And there is so much to love about the Front Porch Theatricals production of “A New Brain,” which boasts an impressive star turn by John Wascavage as Gordon, who finds himself in need of urgent physical and emotional repairs.
At some point, Front Porch Theatricals is going to stop presenting one glorious production after another…but not yet
Pittsburgh City Paper, Ted Hoover
May 23, 2018
There aren’t many people who could turn a vascular anomaly into musical comedy, but William Finn did just that with A New Brain. Not just a musical comedy, it's a show filled with what may be some of the most beautiful music ever written.
Finn is best known as the lyricist/composer of Falsettos – just a few weeks after he won the 1992 Tony Award for that show, he collapsed and was diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation requiring Gamma knife surgery (a form of radiation).
He would later say the music just flowed out of him once he got out of the hospital. That set of songs would eventually become A New Brain. It's the story of a composer – Gordon Schwinn – who fears that his brain surgery, if it doesn’t kill him, could render him unable to ever write another song.
The show, with a book by Finn and James Lapine, played off-Broadway in 1998 and quickly became a cult favorite, packed with songs that shimmer and soar, that are in turns deeply moving, joyous and, yes, healing.
At some point, local company Front Porch Theatricals is going to stop presenting one glorious production after another … but not yet. It just opened A New Brain, directed by local favorite Connor McCanlus, and the result is a breathtaking parade of some of the most dazzling performers you’re likely ever to see.
Pittsburgh in the Round, Brian Pope
May 22, 2018
For the first of two shows in their season entitled “Real People, Real Stories”, Front Porch presents an autobiographical musical. Composer William Finn began work on A New Brain after recovering from some trouble in his brain. Finn enlisted his Falsettos collaborator James Lapine to create the book for the show and focus his songs. It turns out that brain damage can be excellent fodder for musical theatre!
"The cast is perfect. Every single one of them."
'Burgh Vivant, Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli
May 22, 2017
A lyricist collapses from an arteriovenous malformation in his brain, and needs a craniotomy in William Finn’s semi-autobiographical musical, “A New Brain.”
While trying to compose a song for a children’s show, Gordon Schwinn (John Wascavage) starts to unravel. He’s writing pabulum instead of producing great work and the frustration is wearing him down. At lunch with his agent, Rhoda (Meredith Kate Doyle), he gets dizzy and hallucinates. He pictures Mr. Bungee (Matthew J. Rush) the tyrannical puppet master and puppet from the kid’s show he works on. Before his entrée arrives, he slumps over. Soon, paramedics arrive and he’s off to the hospital. His mother, Mimi (Becki Toth) rushes to his side, trying to whole-heartedly convince herself that everything is going to be A-Okay in show-stopping number, “Mother’s Gonna Make Things Fine.”
Gordon is attended by two nurses – one mean nurse, Nancy D. (Lauren Maria Medina), and one nice nurse, Richard (Brady D. Patsy). Dr. Berensteiner (Pierre Mballa); and the Minister (David leong) also tend to his needs – medical and spiritual (though Gordon has little use for the padre).
Before going under the knife, our hero is awaiting the arrival of his boyfriend, Roger (Jeremy Spoljarick), who is off sailing. Roger docks before the operation. The boyfriend pleads for one last night together before the operation, but Gordon chooses to work on peppy kid’s tune, “Yes” for the TV show instead.
Front Porch Theatricals takes its hat off to life in ‘A New Brain’
Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, Toby Tabachnick
May 17, 2018
Front Porch Theatricals, the boutique theater company now in its seventh season, has been offering Pittsburgh audiences the chance to see socially relevant, lesser-known musicals since its first production, the locally written and composed “Only Me” in 2009.
Now, with “A New Brain,” which runs May 18-27 at the New Hazlett Theater, Front Porch is primed to continue its tradition of bringing to the Steel City high-quality, colorful shows, using local talent.
“A New Brain,” which was first produced off-Broadway in 1998, is a largely autobiographical musical by Jewish composer William Finn along with James Lapine (“Falsettos”). It sets to musical score the story of a composer’s brush with mortality resulting from an arteriovenous malformation — a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain — and the healing power of art.
Like Finn, the protagonist in the show, Gordon Schwinn, is Jewish, and the musical explores his brush with the possibility of death and his concerns that he may not live long enough to complete his work.
As with its previous productions, the creative team at Front Porch was intentional in selecting a show that features a multiplicity of character types, and was likewise intentional in its casting.
"…the vocal talent in this production is some of the best I’ve seen on a Pittsburgh stage."
The Pittsburgh Tatler, Wendy Arons
May 21, 2018
You can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of William Finn’s 1998 quirky, feel-good musical A New Brain. The autobiographical tale, based on Finn’s own experience surviving a risky operation to correct an arteriovenous malformation in the brain, began life as a series of songs, written in the aftermath of Finn’s illness, that were then threaded together in collaboration with James Lapine to form a story; the musical had a relatively brief run Off-Broadway in 1998 and has been staged relatively sporadically since, most recently in 2015, as a concert performance at New York City Center.
The show’s origins help explain why, despite the energy and complexity of the music, it has had such low visibility; as Ben Brantley wrote in his 1998 review, the musical as a whole has a “spliced-together feeling,” in which the songs don’t really fully coalesce into a coherent book musical. Nonetheless, Front Porch Theatricals’ fine production, directed by Conor McCanlus, highlights the strengths of the material to create a captivating evening of theater.
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* Actors Equity Association Member
A NEW BRAIN | ARTISTIC & PRODUCTION STAFF
Connor McCanlus Director
Connor began directing in a living room in Swissvale, staging musical revues and original sketches with his sister Layla and guest artists The Bravar Sisters from down the street. The child of a musician and a dancer, Connor grew up in the wings of the Pittsburgh arts community—including many evenings in this very theater. While in school, he directed and assistant directed at summer camps for Spotlight Performing Arts Academy and the Carnegie Museum of Art, as well productions at Winchester Thurston School and Clarion University. Connor interned with Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre, and began working backstage and as an assistant stage manager for PICT and PICT Classic Theatre. He has been a producer and director for various original works at Arcade Comedy Theater, Unplanned Comedy, Steel City Improv Theater, Row House Cinema, and The Cabaret at Theater Square.
Two of his previous directing projects, Yo, Gloria! (2013) and Hashtag: The Musical (2016), were selected to perform at the Magnet Theater in the New York Musical Improv Festival. In 2015 he directed an episode of No Name Players' live sitcom The Sisters Sorella. In 2016, Connor was part of the inaugural Directing Observership program at City Theatre, where he studied with Tracy Brigden on her production of Anna Ziegler's The Last Match and served as a production assistant on A Broadway Holiday with Billy Porter and Anthony Rapp, as well as the Momentum Reading Series. His original musical parody What Ever Happened to babyGRAND, created with Front Porch alumna Missy Moreno, was nominated for Best Local Stage Production in Pittsburgh City Paper's 2017 Readers' Poll. Later this summer, Connor will direct The Inspector General for Throughline Theatre Company. This is his first project with Front Porch Theatricals and he is very grateful for the opportunity.
Deana Muro Musical Director | Conductor | Keyboard
Deana has conducted and music directed many productions throughout the Pittsburgh region. In 2009, she conducted the orchestra for the Paper Mill Playhouse’s production of The Full Monty, starring Broadway legend Elaine Stritch. Much of her work (1200+ performances) has been seen at the Pittsburgh CLO’s Cabaret Theatre. Productions include Forever Plaid (two productions) and Plaid Tidings, Forbidden Broadway, Forbidden Broadway SVU, Always, Patsy Cline, The Big Bang, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, My Way, 8-Track, Sound Of The Seventies, S’wonderful, and Nunsense.
Ms. Muro has been at the keyboard for the national tours of Jesus Christ, Superstar, and Beauty and the Beast, and CLO productions of The Full Monty, Copacabana, Smokey Joe’s Café, Jekyll and Hyde, and was featured in Love Changes Everything. Other credits include several productions of Joseph..., Evita, A Chorus Line, A, My Name Is Alice, and The World Goes ‘Round, A Funny Thing…., The Sound Of Music, Tarzan, and several productions of Footloose. Acting credits include Annie Oakley, Fanny Brice, and Julie in A Perfect Wedding (Post-Gazette best actress list). Ms. Muro created and produced two own one-woman shows So Far, and Plenty of Fish, both SRO. She is the Music Director for Tom Rocco’s M.A.C. award winning cabaret My Big Fat Proposition 8 Wedding that debuted at the NYC’s Metropolitan Room, and Restless Soul Syndrome, which debuted last summer. Ms. Muro is an Adjunct Professor at Carnegie Mellon School of Drama.
Frank Blackmore Scenic Designer
Frank is a Scenic Design MFA candidate at Carnegie Mellon University making his first foray into Pittsburgh regional theater. Past credits include: Ragtime (Carnegie Mellon University), A Fox on the Fairway, Footloose, The Cemetery Club (Tibbits Opera House), Little Shop Of Horrors, Urinetown, Aida (C-R Productions), Into the Woods, Bless Cricket Crest Toothpaste, and Tommy Tune (Shenandoah University). Assistant scene design credits: Sooner/Later (Cincinnati Playhouse) , The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Nighttime (St. Louis Rep), Downstairs (Dorset Theatre Festival), and Carmen (Olney Theater Center). Frank received a BFA in Scenic Design from Shenandoah Conservatory at Shenandoah University.
Andrew David Ostrowski Lighting Design
Andrew's national credits include The National High School Musical Theater Awards in NYC, The Asolo, Virginia Stage Company, North Shore Music Theatre, George Street Playhouse, TheatreWorks, Philadelphia Theatre Company, New York Theater Institute, Merrimack Repertory Company, The Arden Theatre Company, The Blumenthal Center in Charlotte NC, Spoleto Festival USA, Pittsburgh Public Theater, City Theatre, Pittsburgh Opera, Madison Opera, Pittsburgh CLO, Dallas Summer Musicals, Theater of the Stars at the fabulous Fox Theater as well as others.
Andy was the lighting director for an International Tour of the Gershwin Opera Porgy and Bess from 1998-2003 that played in every western European country other than Portugal. Internationally his designs have appeared in France, Sweden, Scotland, and Ireland. In 2002, he was given a national merit award from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Andy resides in Pittsburgh and is an adjunct instructor for Point Park University as well as a freelance Lighting Designer for hire. He has designed over 200 productions in Pittsburgh for many of the companies there. www.tfpld.blogspot.com
Angela Baughman Sound Designer
Angela is delighted to be back with Front Porch Theatricals after designing last season’s The Last Five Years and The Light in the Piazza. Other recent credits include University of Pittsburgh’s Avenue Q, Prime Stage Theatre’s A Lesson Before Dying, and Samuel Hazo’s Tell it to the Marines, as well as JH: Mechanics of a Legend, a new work by Hiawatha Project whose initial reading in April led to the scheduling of a full production at the August Wilson Center for February 2017. Angela earned a degree in music production and engineering from Berklee College of Music.
Natalie Burton Costume Designer
Natalie is delighted to be making her debut with Front Porch. Recent design credits include Love’s Labors Won with Carnegie Mellon University, Spelling Bee with ACT TWO Theater, and Urinetown with ACT TWO Theater. She is also designing a short film to be shot this summer near her hometown. Natalie has a BFA in Fashion Design from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she trained under Nick Cave and is currently working on her MFA in costume design at Carnegie Mellon University.
Eben Alguire Season Technical Director and Manager of Production
Eben has worked in theatrical production for coming on fifteen years now. He has built and managed plays, musicals, and operas as far out as San Diego and as near as Front Porch itself (Floyd Collins - 2016 and Big Fish - 2017). He holds an MFA in Theatrical Production from San Diego State University, and is currently the Technical Director at the University of Pittsburgh, planning and building scenery and teaching the next generation of theatrical technicians.
Katy Click Season Stage Manager
Katy is thrilled to return to Front Porch Theatricals in a new capacity after working on Violet and Big Fish last summer. She most recently stage managed Jesus Christ Superstar and Annie, The Musical at The Strand Theater, Oklahoma! (Pine-Richland High School), and Evil Dead, The Musical (Pittsburgh Musical Theater). Other production credits include DODO (Bricolage), Mr. Burns: a Post-Electric Play (12 Peers Theater), Sweeney Todd, Intermezzo, If I Loved You... (Pittsburgh Festival Opera), Peribañez, The River, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and Collaborators (Quantum Theatre). She fills in any remaining time assisting with load ins, strikes, working at the New Hazlett Theater, and petting other people’s dogs. She'll be back for Grey Gardens later this summer, and you can find her stage managing Rhinegold with PFO in the interim. Katy holds a BA from Allegheny College in Meadville, PA.
Logan Williams Production Assistant and Company Manager
Logan is a High Honors graduate of Robert Morris University with a Master’s of Science Degree in Human Resource Management. During the day, Logan is the Human Resources Analyst for the Allegheny County Airport Authority – Pittsburgh International Airport. At night, it’s all theatre all the time! Logan is excited to be the Production Stage Manager for Front Porch Theatricals third season, and is a professional actor/director/stage manager for various other production companies throughout the greater Pittsburgh. Enjoy the show! @LoganWilliamsRMU
Bruce E. G. Smith Producer
Bruce E. G. Smith feels privileged to be a co-producer and partner in Front Porch Theatricals, which he founded in 2008 with Leon Zionts. Their first production, Only Me, a creative and financial success, was performed at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in 2009. Mr. Smith teamed up with Mr. Zionts again, along with the creative partners of Carrnivale Theatrics to produce Next to Normal in 2012, In The Heights in 2013, and Parade, directed by Benjamin Shaw in 2014, all at the New Hazlett Theater. Once again, both productions received numerous accolades and were a financial success, thanks in part to generous donations and support from the foundation community.
Mr. Smith has been involved in theater as a Board member of Pittsburgh Musical Theater since 1996, serving as president for two terms. He first became interested in theater through his children, and later his son-in-law, all who have performed professionally for many years. Mr. Smith has a successful sales consulting practice, and has been in sales and sales management in the Information Technology industry for companies including IBM, Westinghouse, and British Telecom, as well as numerous start-up and later stage companies. Special thanks to Martha, his wife, who not only supports the company with photography, graphic designs, and excellent and continuous guidance in all matters of theater, but for her constant love and support.
Leon S. Zionts Producer
Leon S. Zionts is honored to continue his friendship and sublime working relationship with Front Porch Theatricals’ co-founder and producing partner, Bruce E. G. Smith on this production. In the Heights, presented in association with the exceedingly gifted Justin Fortunato, and hugely talented Robert Neumeyer of Carrnivale Theatricals, marks Front Porch Theatricals’ third producing endeavor, a successful first solo effort in 2009 with the locally written, composed and Pittsburgh themed original musical Only Me at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, followed in 2012 with the hit, critically acclaimed local professional premier of the Tony Award-winning musical Next to Normal, in association with Carrnivale Theatricals. Emboldened by years of experience as a commercial real estate and transactional attorney, and even more years working as an actor, Leon developed his interest in the business of theater (in addition to performing).
Working as an actor with Messer’s, Fortunato, and Neumeyer in Carrnivale Theatricals’ Ragtime (Tateh) and Into the Woods (Narrator/Mysterious Man), Leon, with Bruce, saw the opportunity to work with, learn from, and mentor his younger production partners, a relationship which has deepened with In the Heights. Leon’s recent theater credits include his Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival debut in the contemporary chamber opera, The Dybbuk (Sender); his opera debut in the Undercroft Opera Company’s The Marriage of Figaro (Don Bartolo); H.M.S. Pinafore (Captain Corcoran), Pirates of Penzance (Major General Stanley) and Patience (Colonel Calverley) with the Pittsburgh Savoyards; Fiddler on the Roof (Tevye), Little Shop of Horrors (Mushnik), Sweeney Todd (Judge Turpin), Merrily We Roll Along (Joe Josephson), Titanic (Captain) and Urinetown (Cladwell) with STAGE 62; That’s Life with The Jewish Theater of Pittsburgh (all three iterations!); and I DO! I DO! (Michael) at the Grand Theater in Elizabeth, PA. Leon created and periodically performs his one man Broadway/Sinatra show, Old, New and Different. Leon is grateful to his wife, Nancy, and daughters Allison and Dani for their ongoing love and support of his theatrical passions, and to Guy Russo, his voice teacher.