Reliving a Horrible Event: William Finn on A New Brain and the Falsettos Revival

News   Reliving a Horrible Event: William Finn on A New Brain and the Falsettos Revival In 1992 composer William Finn collapsed crossing 45th Street after seeing Falsettos at the Golden Theatre, for which he had received two Tony Awards just three weeks earlier. He was soon diagnosed with AVM, a tangle of blood vessels in his brain, and the experience became the inspiration for his 1998 Off-Broadway musical A New Brain. Recently revived as a staged concert as part of the Encores! Off-Center series at New York City Center, Finn opens up to Playbill.com about revisiting this painful period in his life and the changes he's made.

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In A New Brain, composer Gordon Michael Schwinn, played in the current revival by Jonathan Groff, collapses face-first onstage. The incident marks the beginning of his diagnosis with a brain tumor. While lying in his hospital bed awaiting treatment, he fears that he will die with his best work still inside him. Told through both humor and drama, his journey is colored by those closest in his life: an overbearing mother (Ana Gasteyer), a ruthless kid-show host (Dan Fogler) and his boyfriend Roger (Aaron Lazar).

Using his personal experience with AVM, Finn wrote the music and lyrics, as well as co-wrote the book with longtime collaborator James Lapine (the two also worked together on Falsettos and later, The 25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee). The show premiered at the Lincoln Center, featuring Malcolm Gets, Chip Zien, Liz Larsen and Kristin Chenoweth.

In the program notes for A New Brain, Finn admits that to "relive, re-imagine, re-invent, a horrible event from one's life is approached with huge trepidation. And joy. And nausea." Unlike his character in the show, Finn was, at the time of his diagnosis, already a success, but much of the show is based on real-life events. "All these weird things, in fact, happened," he states.

When asked if it was painful to revisit the story, he is hesitant. "That wasn't the painful thing, there were other painful issues," he says. Finn is referring to his mother's death during the rehearsal period, who he visited frequently while preparing for the production. "That she was a character in the show only made it worse – or better. I'm not sure," he explains in the program notes. "It was a weird time in my life when it went on and it's nice to see it again with clearer eyes," he tells Playbill.com. To be able to revisit A New Brain, has given him and Lapine the opportunity to make several changes. "There's a lot," he says. "If you know the show well, there are many changes."

"We're re-imagining certain things, making it a little darker," reveals Finn. "I don't think at the beginning you understand the severity of the whole thing because I couldn't deal with it. I couldn't deal with any of the darkness or the anger at the time. It's a little too gleeful in the original version. It's not dark as I've written it, but it's a little less linear and there are dark overtones in some things."

"Most of them were Lapine inventions, so it's always fun," he adds.

When asked whether the duo plan on taking a similar approach for the upcoming anticipated Falsettos revival, he is adamant that they will leave the show intact. "There will not be any changes," he confirms.

Finn says that he is thrilled to be able to continue working with Lapine after so many years. "His mind is so fertile and he's just such a good collaborator that it's enormous fun to work with him." Also close friends for several years; Lapine visited Finn in the hospital when he was diagnosed with AVM. "He was incredibly sweet. He would ask, 'Are you taking notes?'" Finn says in the New Brain notes. "I'd look at him like he had lost his mind, and say, "James, I'm dying. You're the one who is supposed to take the notes."

Despite re-living this challenging period of his life, restaging A New Brain has been a "delight" for Finn.

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