Personal connections, mortality awareness, hopefulness and the healing power of art — these paradoxical themes and more are part of the upcoming musical “A New Brain,” which will be performed by the Colonial Players of Annapolis from April 12 through May 5.
The musical follows the journey of Gordon, a musician who, during a time of professional struggles, suffers a brain condition called arteriovenous malformation that requires brain surgery. His life becomes radically different after receiving his new brain, as he learns to reprioritize what is important in life. His professional life also flourishes, and he finds his musical compositions easier to write. A song he found impossible to finish before becomes effortless with a new brain. The autobiographical story was written by playwright William Finn, who chronicled his own experience before and after brain surgery.
Much of the musical’s storyline develops around how Gordon’s family and friends react differently to and cope with their loved one’s tenuous situation. The music reflects the gamut of emotions all the characters experience, and, by extension, the audience will ride the emotional rollercoaster with them. The music ranges from jazzy to a ballad. “The audience will see themselves in the characters and enjoy the music because it is amazing,” said Alicia Sweeney, director of “A New Brain.”
Ron Giddings plays the role of Gordon. Giddings is a Severna Park native and currently heads the theater department at Severn School. He referred to his character as “immersive” because he expertly shares a range of emotions from frustration to sarcasm. He said the musical “plays homage to those in trauma.” Giddings’ tenor voice is also powerful.
The role of Gordon’s physician is played by an equally talented actor, Aref Dajani. Coincidentally, Dajani can relate to both Gordon and the playwright Finn, as last June he underwent the same type of brain surgery, a craniotomy. Like the lead character, Dajani said he immediately felt transformed, along with a need to reassess what was important in life. “A New Brain” is Dajani’s first production since his surgery. “It’s cathartic,” he said. “It’s part of my recovery.”
The song Gordon could not finish until after his surgery is called “I Feel So Much Spring,” which Dajani said he can now relate to.
Audience members will be riveted by the musical’s overall intensity and the feeling of not knowing what will happen next. They will connect intimately with the 10-actor cast, as the theater is small, round and unamplified. Few props are used so the actors can focus on acting, and the audience can focus on the actors. There is a not a bad seat in the house. The 90-minute production runs continuously without intermission. The first half is about Gordon’s life before surgery, and the second half is about his life after surgery.
Sweeney summed up the essence of the musical with a quote by Dr. Wayne Dyer: “Don’t die with your music still in you.”
Audiences will enjoy this fun, frequently comical and always heartwarming musical. The show runs from April 12 to May 5 at the East Street Theatre at 108 East Street in Annapolis. Tickets can be purchased at www.thecolonialplayers.org.