Tuesday February 20th 2018

” A New Brain”

Highly Recommended ***** When asked how I come to rate a production, I try to explain that the beauty of a production is indeed (as any art is) in the eye of the beholder. Often, after a play, some of us discuss the totality of what we saw, and as I drive home, I wonder if indeed we were witness to the same show. I try to rate my stars on if I feel that the audience is truly seeing something exceptional and that it is also a solid value. One of my favorite storefront theaters, TheoUbique Cabaret Theatre in Rogers Park, under the careful leadership of its founder, Fred Anzevino, always brings something new and different to the intimate space known as No Exit Café.

Tonight, they opened their very small production of a seldom seen musical piece named “A New Brain”. Seeing that title is not exactly a call to buy tickets, and how could this be a perfect title for a “date-night” play? I had never seen the entire show before, only snippets and segments. In fact, I think Porchlight may be the only area company to take this one on ( and that may have been twice). “A New Brain” is more of a “chamber musical” in that  has 32 songs to help tell the story of a composer who starts to feel dizzy and a sit turns out, has a rare condition called AVM ( arteriovenous Malformation )in his brain stem. This ,is in fact, a real event, and it is indeed the  composer of the music in this production, William Finn. His story is the inspiration for Finn along with James Lapine ( who assisted with the book portion) to bring this event to life and to our stages.

The show opened on Broadway  in 1998 and after many years of being done in regional venues, being reworked along the way, it headed back to New York in 2015 as part of City Center’s “ENCORES! Series”. While it has had a fairly healthy regional life, this is the first time back in many years, and thanks to Anzevino and company, a real treat to start this semi-autobiographical piece, filled with fun and frolic, but also a strong message about staying true to oneself and belief in those who care for you.

In the play, Finn’s alter-ego is named Gordon Schwinn, who is trying to write the great musical.  Taking on this role is a newcomer to TheoUbique, the very talented Chase Heinemann. His vocal  range is probably not the ideal one for the many songs that he does, but his acting ability and his demeanor and play with the other cast members far outweighs not hitting the high notes.While he is waiting to find himself, he takes on song-writing for a children’s TV show called “Mr. Bungee’s Lily Pad”. Mr Bungee is played with great humor by Andy Brown, who also, as an ensemble member takes on another role.

The story revolves around Gordon, his mother (the powerful Liz Norton ), his agent, Rhoda (deftly handled by Tyler Franklin), his “boyfriend” , and Roger ( a solid performance by Colin Schreier). The ensemble members take on the myriad of other roles-Minister(s) all played by Danny Dwayne Wells II, the Doctor ( Kyle Ryan), Veronica Garza (as Lisa and the homeless Lady-)what a voice! and Tommy Bullington as Nurse Richard. He is one comic talent. Last but not least is Holly Atwood as the Waitress/Nurse-this is one bubbly, energetic actress. This solid cast puts on one heck of a show. I have no idea how they find talent year after year, but Anzevino and his people just DO!

This story is propelled by its music, which makes sense when it is about a composer, but the songs will not be ones you will remember- they are just a part of the whole which is a treat from start to end. The musical director for this show (and almost every show) is Jeremy Ramey (on the keyboard) who with his “orchestra” Sarah Younker/Marti Kallenberger (French Horn), Anthony Parsons (Reeds) and Carlos Mendoza (Drums) fill this space with the rich sounds to accompany the story-telling lyrics. They are flawless.

The set by Abigail Reed allows a great use of the tiniest musical stage in the state (maybe the area) and James Koldits does a great job with lighting the actors who move about the tables in this Cabaret-style venue. Bill More’s costumes are  fitting and Tammer Boutro has assemble the props to make the story-telling complete. While the show has very little dancing, the number that does was choreographed by Assistant Director/Choreographer Cameron Turner.

“A New Brain” will continue at No Exit Café located at 6970 N. Glenwood thru October 29th with performances as follows:

Thursdays  7:30 p.m.

Fridays  8 p.m.

Saturdays  8 p.m.

Sundays  7 p.m.

Tickets range from $29- $34 ( value for a show this well done) and can be purchased by calling 800-595-4849 or online at www.theo-u.com

Seniors and students save $4.oo

To add dinner (must have advance reservations) check out menu on the site. $25 is the cost for the dinner. Drinks are available throughout the show and if you have never been to No Exit, you are in for a new experience. The wait staff is composed of cast members, so they will feed you and entertain you- great experience and one you will always relish.

Soon they will be moving to a new building just over the border in Evanston, but I know the quality will never change. TheoUbique is dedicated to giving us the best there is in Cabaret Musical Theater!

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “A New Brain”


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