I'm Breaking Down: The Top Ten Songs by William Finn

By Ben Rimalower
16 Nov 2013

William Finn
William Finn

Playbill.com correspondent Ben Rimalower offers a list of his top ten songs by Tony-winning composer William Finn.

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I can still remember the first time I heard a William Finn song. It was actually two songs: Falsettos' "My Father's A Homo" and "The Baseball Game" on the 1992 Tony Awards.

My father's a homo. My mother's not thrilled at all.
Father homo — what about chromosomes?
Do they carry? Will they carry? Who's the homo now?

It was like my life was on that stage. And then:



We're watching Jewish boys,
who cannot play baseball play baseball.
We're watching Jewish boys,
who almost read Latin, up battin' — and battin' bad
.

It was like the lives of everyone I knew were on that stage, too. And not only were our lives so vividly reflected in this piece of theatre, but in a musical — a hilarious, heartbreaking, manically melodic show unlike anything I'd ever heard or seen. I immediately bought the complete cast recording and memorized every word and note, fully expecting to enter into a lifetime of loving new musicals by William Finn.

Musical theatre, though, is a tough beat. It's difficult to succeed commercially, to build a career, and it's difficult to succeed artistically. It can't be said enough: Musicals are hard to do, and they are almost impossible to do well. So, over the years, there have only been a few shows by Finn, and the only one to succeed financially on Broadway has been The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a show I thoroughly enjoyed but which I find inconsequential as a piece of musical theatre. It's a hilarious and moving play with enjoyable music and lyrics that enhance, but don't really impact the experience — and much of the best music and lyrics in Spelling Bee are motifs that pop up as appealing commentary without ever developing into full songs. Actually, even in the rest of Finn's shows, some of his best work falls into this category.

So excluding all my favorite fragments, here are my top ten William Finn songs from his Tony-winning Falsettos (or the two one-act musicals, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland, of which Falsettos is comprised), In Trousers (the 1979 Off-Broadway musical which is basically a prequel to Falsettos), A New Brain (the 1998 Off-Broadway musical) and a couple of evenings of stray songs, notably Elegies (the 2003 Off-Broadway song cycle).

Click through to read my selections.

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