Review: ‘A New Brain’ at Theatre Horizon

I definitely would not “rather be sailing…”, I would rather be at Theatre Horizon’s production of A New Brain! The hilarious and touching show follows Gordon Schwinn, a songwriter for a children’s television show who receives a tragic diagnosis that causes him to take another look at his life’s work and his relationships with the people that surround him.

Steve Pacek Center, Lto R: Melissa Joy Hart, Rachel Camp, Christian Eason, Peter Carrier, and Rob Tucker. Photo by Matthew J Photography.
Steve Pacek (Center), L to R: Melissa Joy Hart, Rachel Camp, Christian Eason, Peter Carrier, and Rob Tucker. Photo by Matthew J Photography.

With music and lyrics by William Finn and James Lapine, and a book also by Finn, A New Brain is considered to be an autobiographical musical comedy that is based on Finn’s life. The show started as a concert of songs written by Finn after leaving the hospital that premiered at The Public Theater in New York City, followed by fully staged workshops in 1996 and 1997. The full musical was first officially produced off-Broadway at the Newhouse Theater in Lincoln Center with its first preview May 14, 1998, and then ran for five months. Another notable production of the show was a concert series revival at Encores! Off-Center in NYC in July, 2015 that had major rewrites and was directed by Lapine.

 Peter Carrier and Steve Pacek. Photo by Matthew J Photography.
Peter Carrier and Steve Pacek. Photo by Matthew J Photography.

Leading the pack is Steve Pacek who plays Gordon, the writer’s blocked musician who just wants to leave a legacy attached to his name. Pacek is a tour de force in both his vocals and his acting chops. His voice soars through his beautiful solo numbers like “Sailing” (Reprise) and invokes both laughter and tears. Pacek is paired with Peter Carrier who played Roger, whose smooth moves and silky vocals were swoon-worthy.

Two incredible leading ladies head this production: Rachel Camp as Rhoda, and Susan Riley Stevens who plays Mimi. Camp belts her heart out and particularly stood out with her impeccable comedic timing during the “Coma Sequence.”

Stevens’ frantic motherly ticks made her character come to life and break my heart. Melissa Joy Hart, as the Homeless Woman, took no prisoners with her soaring high notes and harshly realistic mannerisms in “On the Street.”

A New Brain has a “killer” ensemble. Their voices blend beautifully and create gorgeous harmonies and their energy carried the show through its endless barrage of short quippy moments. Christian Eason, who played the Minister, had a velvety voice that I just wanted to listen to over and over, and Doug Hara made me absolutely cackle swishing around the stage on his delightful scooter.

Matthew Decker’s direction was full of heart and so effective. The space was used well and I was able to easily follow the face paced storyline. This was complemented by Jenn Rose’s quirky, yet subdued, choreography that went seamlessly with the style of music. The pit was effortlessly led by Music Director Amanda Morton and her talented musicians who played the fun score so well.

 The cast of 'A New Brain.' Photo by Matthew J Photography.
The cast of ‘A New Brain.’ Photo by Matthew J Photography.

The set design, by Brian Dudkiewicz, featured large sectioned semi-transparent white walls that really added to the cold hospital setting of the piece and were able to be creatively used for silhouette scenes. Oona Curley’s lighting design also add to this clinical ambience through strategically placed harsh fluorescent strip lights. Specialty costumes designed by Jill Keys, including Mr. Bungee’s frog head were delightful and well made, and Chris Haig’s prop designs did their job of helping to establish our medical world, and created fun unexpected moments like the sail and boat accoutrements in “Sitting Becalmed in the Lee of Cuttyhunk.” Finally, Nick Kourtides’ sound design created excellent balance between actors’ mics and the pit.

If you’re looking for “Heart, time, and music,” look no further than Theatre Horizon’s heartfelt and touching A New Brain. It’s a show not to be missed!

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

A New Brain runs through November 6th at Theatre Horizon- 401 DeKalb Street, in Norristown, PA. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.


  1. A very interesting and different plot.Nice mention about Christian’s ‘velvety voice!” I am going to forward this to my cousins who live in Philadelphia. They are theater buffs, and will surely be interested.
    Thank you, Jan, for forwarding this to us?


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