Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn will use well-known, lesser-known and trunk numbers by the songwriter whose musicals include Falsettos, A New Brain, Elegies: A Song Cycle and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Previews begin Aug. 11 at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT, where Ruggiero is associate artistic director. Opening is Aug. 18 for a run through Sept. 24.
The cast of four will feature Sandy Binion, Sally Wilfert, Adam Heller and Joe Cassidy, all Broadway veterans, with music direction by Michael Morris.
Ruggiero, who directed Falsettos and Elegies for Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires, went right to the source and asked permission to construct a revue. Finn, knowing Ruggiero's track record, said yes, and offered access to his catalog, including cut, trunk and obscure numbers. The director said Finn might even write a new piece for the evening.
"Basically he gave me access to all material," Ruggiero said, adding that there is, however, a sensitivity issue about Spelling Bee songs, since the popular show has a current life on Broadway and the road. Don't expect a lot of songs from Spelling Bee, but don't expect Make Me a Song to just be the "greatest hits," either. That idea doesn't interest Ruggiero.
Make Me a Song will not be chronological, and won't address Finn's shows in sections. Ruggiero is creating it based on the strengths of his cast — Wilfert the legit soprano, Binion the chocolate-rich mezzo who belts, Heller the character man, and the sweet-voiced Cassidy.
"I think of it as deconstructed yet whimsical," Ruggiero said. "It's sort of downtown, colorful, basement theatre. I want it to be a really fun evening, a little more theatrical and less cabaret…great summer fare that's also moving and irreverent."
Ruggiero said he expects the experience to match the "impulsive energy" of Bill Finn, whose songs are known for their quirky use of language, neurotic energy and depth of feeling.
Into the mix, Ruggiero hopes to include "All Fall Down," a fan favorite (though lesser known) from America Kicks Up Its Heels (a Public Theater show later revised as Romance in Hard Times). Also expect a song that was cut from Spelling Bee. The revue's title comes from "Mister, Make Me a Song," a song heard on the "Infinite Joy" album, representing a cabaret evening at Joe's Pub.
The creative team for Make Me a Song includes set designer Luke Cantarella, costume designer Alejo Vietti and lighting designer John Lasiter.
Massachusetts native Finn, 54, is the writer/composer of Falsettos (Tony Award winner for Best Book [with James Lapine] and Best Original Score). He has written/composed In Trousers (L.A. Drama Critics Award), March of the Falsettos (Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Musical, L.A. Drama Critics Award), Falsettoland (two Drama Desk Awards and Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical), Romance in Hard Times (Public Theater), A New Brain (Lincoln Center/Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical) and Elegies: A Song Cycle (Lincoln Center).
Finn was a 2005 Tony nominee for Best Original Score for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. He graduated from Williams College, where he was awarded the Hutchinson Fellowship in Musical Composition, and currently teaches a weekly master class at NYU's Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. Finn is artistic producer of Barrington Stage Company's Musical Theatre Lab, for which he and BSC artistic director Julianne Boyd guide new works to development and production.
For more information about TheaterWorks in Hartford, call (860) 527-7838 or visit www.theaterworkshartford.org.