Theatre UAB opens new season with musical “A New Brain,” from Oct. 12-16

When we are on the brink of life, how do we choose to spend our time? This sardonic comedy is from the Tony Award-winning authors of “Falsettos.”

Theatre UABNew brain artTheatre UAB presents "A New Brain" will present “A New Brain,” an energetic, sardonic and comical musical about a composer during a medical crisis, from Oct. 12-16.

Originally premiering off-Broadway in 1998, “A New Brain” — from the Tony Award-winning authors of “Falsettos” — has captivated audiences with its laughter, heart and pulsing soul.

Based on the true story of William Finn himself suffering a fatal diagnosis, Finn finds beauty in the darkest of situations. This work is inspired and crafted on some of the characters Finn met while in the hospital, and examines the details of the human experience, as messy as they may be. “A New Brain” includes music and lyrics by William Finn and a book by both Finn and James Lapine.  

Theatre UAB is the performance company of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Theatre at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Senior Cooper Ellis of Atlanta, Georgia, will co-direct this show, which features an all-student cast of 10 actors plus students assisting and taking the lead on choreography, musical direction, costume design, crew and more. “A New Brain” is co-directed by Roy Lightner, with musical direction by Carolyn Violi.

Shows are at 7:30 p.m. nightly Oct. 12-15, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, in UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center. This production contains strong language and mature themes. Tickets are $15 and $20, $6 for students, and $10 for UAB employees and senior citizens. Call 205-975-2787 or visit for tickets.

About the show

“‘A New Brain’ is the voice inside our heads that tells us we aren’t good enough, makes us choose work over love and forces us to look inward when everything around us stops,” said Ellis, a Bachelor of Fine Arts musical theater major set to graduate in 2023. “It’s a glimpse of life giving us a second chance — the opportunity for a new beginning.”  

The production is a fast-paced, completely sung exploration of the main character, Gordo, a composer working for a children’s TV program who is stuck in a creative rut. Gordo collapses at lunch with his agent, Rhoda, and receives a medical diagnosis that turns his world upside down in an instant. This allows him to evaluate who he wants to be and teaches him how to wrestle with inner demons in the face of death. When we are on the brink of life, how do we choose to spend our time? How do we handle ourselves after mass amounts of change? “A New Brain” explores these questions.  

Processed with VSCO with nc presetSenior Cooper Ellis“Our cast, crew and creatives in the UAB Department of Theatre have harnessed their passions and are pouring their everything into this work,” Ellis said. “We have aimed to create a safe, inclusive environment for students to explore their greatest potential, and I am so excited to bring this gorgeous, complex show to life.”

In addition to her performance major, Ellis began on a directing track — like an unofficial minor — and has continued since her freshman year. After COVID took over in her sophomore year, she was able to work as assistant director for “Godspell” in her junior year with Lightner and Cheryl Hall. After that experience, Ellis was also able to assistant direct in the professional world for “Once,” presented by Red Mountain Theatre with Lightner last spring, and got the opportunity to create and direct her own performing tour group company for UAB. Co-directing “A New Brain” was the natural next step, she says. 

Cast and crew

The cast is Troy Serena of Oneonta, Alabama, as Gordon Schwinn; Sadie Farmer of Birmingham as Homeless Woman; Kara Scullin of Cincinnati, Ohio, as Rhoda; Maddie Erwin of Houston, Texas as Waitress/Nancy D.; Travis Settoon of Ponchatoula, Louisiana, as Mr. Bungee; Jason Torrey of Eureka, Kansas as Richard; Ryan Charest of Tampa, Florida as Dr. Jafar Berensteiner; Terrell Miller of Birmingham as The Minister; Jalen Kirkman of Florence, Alabama, as Roger Delli-Bovi; and Abigail Coats of Florence, Alabama, as Mimi Schwinn. Understudies are Cara Parisi of Kansas City, Missouri; Matthew Piper of Dora, Alabama; Devin Towery of New Braunfels, Texas; and Peyton Griffin of Ellisville, Mississippi.

Stage management is by spring graduate Bailey Dumlao of Germantown, Tennessee, with assistant stage management by Brandon Marquez of Mandeville, Louisiana, and Cappy Elvir of New Orleans, Louisiana. Costume design is by Anna Medders of West Jefferson, Alabama. Assistant choreographer is Hannah Moss of Pasadena, California. Assistant musical director is Rose McClanahan of Lexington, Kentucky. Musical director intern is Olivia Scott of Panama City, Florida.

Production crew includes Georgiana Dramble of Eufala, Alabama, and Jakira Dial of Bessemer, Alabama, for wardrobe; Emma Chippendale of Orlando, Florida, and Davis Carter of Alabaster, Alabama, for run crew; Ellie Cornett of Madison, Alabama, for light board operation; Angus Black of New Orleans, Louisiana, and Gavin Cleckler of Fort Payne, Alabama, for follow spot operation; and Khaliyah Williams of Birmingham and Deztonie Cunningham of Mobile, Alabama, for sound deck. Sound design is by Jay Tumminello, scenic design by Cliff Simon, lighting design by Kelly Allison and props design by Jim Luther.