William Finn is one lucky composer. The stagehands strike has shuttered much of Broadway, but the theatre that houses his long-running hit The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Circle in the Square, is one of the few stages that is unaffected by the contract dispute. What's more, Finn's new revue Make Me a Song, which collects songs from several of Finn's previous works, recently opened Off-Broadway to largely glowing reviews. The songwriter talked to Playbill.com about his good fortune.
Playbill.com: Some years ago, I saw you perform your Infinite Joy revue at Joe's Pub. Make Me a Song shares a number of songs with that revue. Is it an evolution of the earlier show?
William Finn: Rob Ruggiero, who did the show in spite of any encouragement from me — I told him he could do it as long as I had nothing to do with it — used Infinite Joy as a kind of a template, as a beginning point.
Playbill.com: And was the production at TheaterWorks in Hartford his next step?
WF: Yes. He's the [associate] artistic director at TheaterWorks, which is a 200-seat theatre, the same as we are in New York. He did it there and it was a big success.
Playbill.com: Were you involved in the concept and the selection of songs and the casting?
WF: No. I was only involved with it since Hartford. I had nothing to do with it before then. Playbill.com: What were your feelings about having another revue of your songs so soon after Elegies at Lincoln Center?
WF: Well, Elegies isn't a revue. Those songs were written specifically for one piece. It's a song cycle.
Playbill.com: So you view them as very different animals.
WF: Very different animals. To my mind, Elegies is the best thing I've ever written.
Playbill.com: Yes — I read once where you said the best things you'd ever done were Elegies, Falsettos and The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee. Do you still feel that way?
WF: Well, I certainly think Elegies is the best thing I've ever done. The writing is just on a higher level.
Playbill.com: You don't ever mention A New Brain as being one of your best works. Don't you have good memories of that show?
WF: Ohhhh. I don't. But it was a difficult time for me, and, perhaps because of that the production's a bit colored for me.
Playbill.com: Would you like to see the show revisited?
WF: Actually, James Lapine and I were going to try and revisit it. We'll see what happens with that.
Playbill.com: Spelling Bee is now going to close after a long run on Broadway. What are your feelings on that?
WF: I feel like I'm losing a bathroom in Midtown, but I'm gaining one just down the street [at New World Stages]. (Laughs.)
Playbill.com: Were you surprised that Spelling Bee did so well in the commercial sector?
WF: I don't think I was. But I'm always surprised how unsuccessful so many of my shows are. (Laughs) I always expect them to be successful. I always like them a lot. When they're not successful, I never understand. People should want to see [Spelling Bee]. It's funny and moving. What else do you want?
Playbill.com: You performed some songs in Infinite Joy. Are you tempted to step into Make Me a Song and perform a song or two?
WF: I performed some songs badly in Infinite Joy. I can't imagine my singing a song would help the show at all. (Laughs.)
Playbill.com: Infinite Joy was recorded. Will Make Me a Song be recorded as well?
WF: It is going to be recorded. Sh-K-Boom will do it.