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New Brain Production Pics

The Encores! Off-Center production of A New Brain, photographed by Joan Marcus.

A New Brain was here, and now it’s gone—but the music still plays on. On Friday, PS Classics will release the Encores! Off-Center cast recording of William Finn’s unforgettable musical about heart, music, and frog-related hallucinations. We’re delighted to share three songs from the album, along with Finn’s commentary.

“I was thrilled with this production,” Finn says of the defibrillated New Brain that played City Center last June. “I don’t in any way want to disparage the original production—I actually loved it—but we did different things in this production that made it much more to my liking.” Particularly transformative was the casting of Jonathan Groff as struggling composer Gordon Schwinn. “He’s absolutely the sweetest, most generous actor I’ve ever met in my life,” says Finn. “He made the character so pleasant. And the character can be nasty—but when Jonathan says those lines, it doesn’t matter.”

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February 3, 2016 by New York City Center
Cynthia Nixon

Cynthia Nixon, photographed by Maarten De Boer.

Tony and Emmy Award winner Cynthia Nixon has played everyone from Jean Brodie to Eleanor Roosevelt, but the role that got away was Agnes Gooch. I’m too old now, but I always really wanted to do Gooch,” she says. “Because if she sings badly, it’s fine, you know?” If the third lead in Mame seems like an unlikely Everest, keep in mind that Nixon is obsessed with musicals. She and Sarah Jessica Parker used to sing showtunes during long nights on the set of “Sex and the City,” and these days she still listens mostly to cast recordings. For her dream Encores! show, Nixon selected The Golden Apple, Jerome Moross and John Latouche’s exquisite, brainy “opera for Broadway,” which retells the Greek myths of Helen, Paris, Ulysses, and Penelope through the lens of American folklore. Although the 1954 musical closed on Broadway after four months, it has since acquired a merry, fanatical band of admirers.

CITY CENTER: How did you discover The Golden Apple?
CYNTHIA NIXON: My mother. I was very immersed in musicals growing up—which is what Steve, the play that I’m directing at The New Group, is so much about: people who live for musicals, and live through musicals. I certainly fit into that category, and I’ve done it to my children. (laughs) I’ve also done it to my wife, who was not a musical comedy person at all before she met me. My mother steeped me in musical theater, and we used to play the Golden Apple record. Then I was lucky enough to see a production of it, which is unusual, at the York Theater [in 1978] when I was still a kid. I knew the show inside out by the time I saw it.

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November 13, 2015 by New York City Center
William Finn Rehearsal

Choreographer Josh Prince, William Finn, and James Lapine in rehearsal for the Encores! Off-Center production of A New Brain, photographed by Joan Marcus.

We asked Tony Award-winning composer William Finn to share a few thoughts on revisiting his autobiographical musical A New Brain at City Center, almost 20 years after the original production premiered.

1.
During the rehearsal period for A New Brain at Lincoln Center, my mother died in Boston. I would spend a few days in New York where Graciela Daniele, the wonderful director of that production, would tell me to go spend time with my mother, and a few days in Boston where my beloved mother would tell me I belonged in New York, and to get going. As the date for the opening approached, she took morphine so that my whole family could come to my opening. That she was a character in the show only made it worse – or better, I’m not sure.

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June 26, 2015 by New York City Center
Mister Bungee

The tyrannical children’s television host Mr. Bungee (Dan Fogler) berates songwriter Gordon Schwinn (Jonathan Groff) in A New Brain. Photo by Joan Marcus.

At the beginning of William Finn’s zany, big-hearted musical A New Brain, the composer Gordon Schwinn is laboring over a mindless kiddie-show tune about lily pads. “It’s taking up the brunt of my time,” he sings. “I don’t have time to write my real stuff!” In reality, though, the leap from Sesame Street to Shubert Alley isn’t as far as you might think. To celebrate the Encores! Off-Center production of A New Brain, we spoke with five acclaimed musical theater songwriters who started out—or at least paid their rent—by writing for children’s television.

Tony Award-winning lyricist Lynn Ahrens talks about being plucked from the secretarial pool to write for “Schoolhouse Rock!”, and Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the Oscar-winning songwriting team behind Frozen, reminisce about the first song they ever wrote together—for “Bear in the Big Blue House.” Plus, Off-Center composers William Finn and Andrew Lippa reflect on their brief stints in children’s TV.

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June 24, 2015 by New York City Center
Sutton Foster and Jonathan Groff

Sutton Foster and Jonathan Groff in conversation at City Center. Photo by Matt Karas.

In May we shared the first part of a chatty, wide-ranging conversation with Encores! Off-Center stars Sutton Foster and Jonathan Groff. In part two, Foster explains why she was drawn to The Wild Party and Groff shares what he learned by seeing her six times in Thoroughly Modern Millie. (They also talk about farting princesses and bad Irish accents.)

CITY CENTER: Jonathan, I wanted to ask how you stay present during Hamilton. You’re only onstage…

JONATHAN GROFF: I’m onstage for nine minutes, total.

SUTTON FOSTER: Really?

JG: Yeah.

SF: That’s a good job.

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June 16, 2015 by New York City Center
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