Composer William Finn is the latest cabaret virgin to be coaxed into performing by Joe's Pub, the nightspot just off downtown Manhattan's Public Theater which has become a mecca for musical theatre artists of every stripe (Faith Prince, Sandra Bernhard, Lea DeLaria, Michael John La Chiusa, etc.) Among those gathering Sept. 25, Oct. 2 and Oct. 9 to sing a collection of Finn tunes are Stephen DeRosa,, Carolee Carmello, Norm Lewis, Wanda Jackson; but perhaps the performer likely to garner the most attention is Finn himself, who will sing a couple songs himself in his singular voice. The composer of Falsettos and A New Brain paused from his rabid viewing of the Sydney Olympics to talk to Playbill On-Line about the cabaret, his upcoming shows (The Royal Family of Broadway, Muscle) and why those Rumanians shouldn't have won.
Playbill On-Line: What kind of songs will we hear in the new cabaret act?
William Finn: It's a lot of new stuff. About two thirds of it is stuff people don't know. Some are connected to shows and some are not. A little of everything.
PBOL: Who's idea was this, yours of Joe's Pub's?
WF: Theirs. Stephen DeRosa's doing it. Carolee Carmello, Norm Lewis, Wanda Jackson and myself. Stephen DeRosa, he's singing a song I've worked on for 20 years, it's been in a million workshops for different shows. It's called "Famous Boy." He's also doing a version of "The Ball Game" from Falsettos, the only song we're doing from that show, but he's doing all the characters. Wanda Houston is doing "The Music Still Plays On." Carolee Carmello has three great songs. She has one song from The Royal Family called "I Have Found." And one song that I just wrote called "She Said." Norm Lewis, he does a song called "Infinite Joy," which is one of my favorite songs of all time. And "Hitchhiking Across America." And "I'd Rather Be Sailing," from A New Brain, because no critic saw him do that.
PBOL: And what songs are you going to sing.
WF: A song called "Make Me a Song" and a one called "Republicans."
PBOL: Any reason why you chose these songs for yourself?
WF: Because they're good and funny and you don't need a great voice to sing them. "Republicans" is one of my very best songs of all time. PBOL: Can you give me a sample lyric?
WF: "I never met a Republican til I went to college/The mother of a classmate said she hated Bella Abzug/And I said, `Are you a Republican'/She just laughed and I said `Bitch.' "
PBOL: Of the shows you're working on, which will we see soonest?
WF: I would guess it's The Royal Family.
PBOL: Will there be another workshop?
WF: Well, we did a workshop last year. There won't be another. It will be a production.
PBOL: What's going on with the show Muscle? Pegasus Players in Chicago announced it for June 2001.
WF: I guess that's going on this season. I don't know what's happening. We're not even sure.
PBOL: You wrote that quite a long time ago.
WF: Yeah, well, yeah -- a long time ago. [Laughs]
PBOL: You seem to be somewhat disconnected from this project.
WF: Well, I just wrote the music. It was really easy.
PBOL: So, what's your singing voice like?
WF: It used to be much better than it is today! It exposes a lot. It's very evocative, but it's very unfortunate. It's not a pretty voice. I'm very good with lyrics. [Laughs]
PBOL: Do you talk-sing in the Rex Harrison mode?
WF: No, I sing more than talk, which is perhaps a mistake.
PBOL: Maybe we will see you star in one of your own show one day.
WF: Perhaps you will never see me star in one of my shows. [Laughs] However, I was the original Marvin in Trousers. I was the first one and it was the only time it ever really succeeded. [Laughs] I'm a big performer, but I've totally lost my chops. I used to be good. Now I'm dismal. However, I'm making myself do this.
PBOL: Very brave.
WF: Well, very stupid!
PBOL: So, how are you enjoying the Olympics?
WF: I love the Olympics!
PBOL: So, you're the person watching them.
WF: I'm the person watching them. I don't know how I'm going to live without them.
PBOL: Did you watch the Rumanian gymnasts win?
WF: They shouldn't have won, because of that vault thing. [The performances of many Olympic gymnasts, including the Russian champion, were thrown off due to a vault being set two inches too low.] That was a serious, serious problem. They screw you up at the beginning and then they screw you up again...it was a ridiculous thing. It also happened to the American. They screwed up the vault.
PBOL: So, you're saying these Rumanians are undeserving.
WF: I think... Yeah! I know that they would not have won if everything were equal. I don't know if your audience is interested in this information.
PBOL: No -- they just care about the theatre.
--By Robert Simonson