Friday, November 9, 2007

Heart and Jewzic

Found amidst the Altar Boyz and Naked Boys (and whatever-the-hell-other Boys they got hangin' around New World Stages) is the new revue, Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn. I recently had the pleasure, and it is SPECIAL with a capital "SPESH"! (You must never quote me on that.) But that's the best word I can come up with to describe my time in the audience: Special. The show is a musical scrapbook which pastes together songs from A New Brain, Falsettos, and Elegies, among others. Like Elegies, this too is a song cycle, and though the production flows beautifully, the musical numbers are not woven together by a new storyline. In that way it's unlike Putting it Together, for instance, which seamlessly assembled a collection of songs by the great Stephen Sondheim to comment on the joys and trials of marriage and human relationships, young and old. Or Mamma Mia, which uses those classic Broadway melodies of ABBA to tell a timeless tale of promiscuity and spandex...Make Me a Song is a treasure trunk of great work. Some might say 'gratuitous brilliance'. And most of Mr. Finn's songs are 3-act plays on their own.

Inserted in every Playbill is a list of songs included and a brief anecdote written by William himself to go along with each, giving us a humorous and exclusive inside look at his writing methods and experiences. I thought this a nice touch and extremely appropriate. In this particular setting (illuminated by a giant neon caricature of Finn hanging center stage), these already personal and telling songs seem even more so, out of the context of their respective shows, almost making the writer his own subject.

A large part of what makes the evening so exceptional is the talent onstage. Most actors will say of these songs that, because of the irrefutable honesty and insight of their written lyrics, unless you are Helen Keller or dead, it's almost impossible to deliver such material poorly. However, the four performers I saw did not just deliver the material; They delivered it, breast-fed it, put it through college and walked it down the aisle, right there onstage. Which is to say, they truly took it in and made it their own. (You understand.) Adam Heller is stellar. He perpetuates the cruel stereotype that all Jewish people are really funny, especially with his ongoing assessment of members of the opposite sect in "Republicans" (Parts 1-3). D.B. Bonds is charming, and by the end of "I Went Fishing With My Dad", you just want to give him a hug. (Don't, though. I was immediately escorted off stage.) When Sally Wilfert sings "Anytime" (a deceased mother's solacing message to the child she's left behind), she rips your heart out of your chest, twists it into the shape of a poodle, puts it on a stick and hands it to you. (This is a good thing. My description of the emotions induced by the tear-jerking finale of the "Falsettos Suite" would be more graphic, so I will spare you.) And the exquisite Sandy Binion absolutely stops the show with every note she sings. A few lyrics have been changed here and there, and some stunning new arrangements have been created, like the fusion of "Set Those Sails" from In Trousers and "I'd Rather Be Sailing" from A New Brain. I long for a recording of it.

I had a splendid time, and recommend Make Me a Song to all Finn Fans. (And who isn't these days?) I will be sitting down to chat with William Finn next week for HX Magazine. One openly-Jewish homosexual writer to another. Stay Tuned for that!


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