William Finn Revue, Make Me a Song, Expected to Sprout in NYC in Spring

News   William Finn Revue, Make Me a Song, Expected to Sprout in NYC in Spring
 
The new William Finn revue, Make Me a Song, a hot property last summer at Hartford's TheaterWorks, is being aimed for a spring 2007 launch Off-Broadway.
Sandy Binion
Sandy Binion Photo by Lanny Nagler

As previously reported, producers flocked to the Aug. 11-Sept. 24, 2006, production at the Connecticut resident Equity theatre. Playbill.com has learned that commercial producers are now attached and seeking a home for the four original cast members and the production that was conceived and directed by Rob Ruggiero, who is associate artistic director of TheaterWorks.

Ruggiero confirmed that commercial producers are attached, and that they "are actively looking at spaces" in Manhattan.

"We're looking for a funky, downtown-style space that is very conducive to the Bill Finn style," Ruggiero said. "Not something slick or pretentious, but fun and raw and quirky. And a place that's not too big — in the 200-seat range."

Intimacy was a selling point for the piano-and-voice show that critics and audiences embraced in Hartford. TheaterWorks seats 200.

Playbill.com previously reported that the earliest possible start for a New York production of Make Me a Song would be January 2007, pending investors and an available theatre. A March rehearsal start is now the goal. Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn (the full title) uses 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. The production has been revised, tweaked and refined since its start Aug. 11. Further changes will be applied to the New York run, but Ruggiero said he has no plans to fix what's not broken.

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Make Me a Song is the new revue of songs culled from the catalog of Tony Award-winner William Finn (Falsettos, A New Brain, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee).

The cast — New Yorkers Sandy Binion, Joe Cassidy, Adam Heller, Sally Wilfert, and a very active pianist named John DiPinto — made their unamplified voices heard way back to Manhattan. Musical direction was by Michael Morris.

The reviews were so positive that producers pricked up their ears. One set? A cast of four? A solo piano? Songs by a Tony winner? It was the stuff that makes producers' hearts beat faster.

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.

In Hartford, "Why We Like Spelling," cut from Spelling Bee, made an appearance at the end of Act One of Make Me a Song, with the cast in full middle-school drag. Act Two opened with a "suite" from Falsettos, including "Four Jews in Room Bitching," "A Tight-Knit Family," "Trina's Song," "March of the Falsettos," "The Games I Play," "The Baseball Game," "Something Bad," "Holding to the Ground" and "Unlikely Lovers."

Make Me a Song is not comprised of the "greatest hits" of William Finn, however. That idea didn't interest Ruggiero.

"Dear Reader (or, How Critics Kill Art)," a vocally ambitious exchange between an author and a critical consumer of her book, was a discovery for many listeners. "How Marvin Eats His Breakfast," from In Trousers, was included, and so was I Have Found, from Finn's take on Kaufman and Ferber's The Royal Family, an unproduced musical.

"Hitchhiking Across America" (sung by Cassidy) is an orphaned song from a show that was never completed. It surfaced in the revue.

Make Me a Song is not a chronological look at Finn's output over the years, and doesn't address Finn's shows in sections (except for Falsettos).

Ruggiero created the revue with the strengths of his actor-singer cast in mind.

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"I think of it as deconstructed yet whimsical," Ruggiero previously 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 in August he expected 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.

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. It was written for Mandy Patinkin, according to program notes.

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 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.

L-R: Sally Wilfert, John DiPinto, Adam Heller, Sandy Binion, Joe Cassidy
L-R: Sally Wilfert, John DiPinto, Adam Heller, Sandy Binion, Joe Cassidy Photo by Lanny Nagler
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