Make Me a Song, Finn's Revue of "Heart and Music," Opens in NYC

By Kenneth Jones
November 12, 2007

William Finn, the Tony Award-winning songwriter whose work doesn't sound like any other composer's, gets a fresh showcase in New York City Nov. 12 with the Off-Broadway opening of Make Me a Song.

It's apt that this new revue is playing Manhattan after its previous regional run last year in Connecticut: The quirky, ruminative, agitated songs of composer-lyricist Finn fit right into the neurotic energy of the city.

Songs from Finn's Falsettos, A New Brain, The Royal Family of Broadway, Elegies: A Song Cycle and more are heard in the four-actor, one-pianist revue, which was constructed and directed by Rob Ruggiero. Previews for Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn began at Off-Broadway's New World Stages (Stage 5) on Oct. 30.

The show was seen in a popular 2006 presentation at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT, where Ruggiero is associate artistic director.

The revue has been revised and refined since its Connecticut run. Ruggiero has one new cast member and a new pianist, for starters, but he's also revamped the Falsettos section of this catalog show and added and subtracted musical numbers since 2006.

The musical — promising to "tell personal, haunting, and often hilarious tales from Finn's rich and touching human songbook" — is now a swift 90 minutes rather than two acts. In eliminating the intermission, the thinking was: why interrupt the fizzing energy of a unique voice?

New to the cast of four singer-actors is D.B. Bonds, who joins holdovers Sandy Binion, Adam Heller and Sally Wilfert.

The foursome (and singing pianist-musical director Darren R. Cohen) bite into fan favorites, obscurities and trunk tunes. Michael Morris is music supervisor.

Finn is the two–time Tony Award winner for the groundbreaking musical Falsettos, and is currently represented on Broadway with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (which will close in January 2008, the producers recently announced; the tour continues). Make Me a Song features classics from these shows as well as selections from Romance in Hard Times, Elegies and the yet-to-be-produced The Royal Family of Broadway, now apparently a shelved show.

"What gives me unending pleasure, infinite joy," Finn once said, "is a well made song."

In the Playbill for Make Me a Song, he writes, "I think that what music and great lyrics can do is make life richer. You take a moment from life and you don't know it's great, you don't know it's as special as it is. Then you hear it sung and all of a sudden you have goose bumps and everything seems to have changed and the world seems different."

The songlist of Make Me a Song includes "Mister, Make Me a Song" (a song written for Mandy Patinkin for an intended Finn evening); "Heart and Music" (from A New Brain); "Hitchhiking Across America" (written for a proposed musical about thumbing it across the U.S.); "Republicans" (recurring comic pieces, written "either during Reagan's last term or Bush Senior's only term," now laced throughout the show and sung by the Finn persona on stage, Adam Heller); "Billy's Law of Genetics" (from A New Brain, with an arrangement by Jason Robert Brown); Passover (written for Elegies: A Song Cycle); "Only One" (inspired by teachers of Finn, about from Elegies); "I'd Rather Be Sailing"/"Set Those Sails" (from A New Brain and In Trousers, respectively); "Change" (from A New Brain); "I Have Found" (from the unproduced musical, The Royal Family of Broadway); "You're Even Better Than You Think You Are" (written for a show — Songs of Innocence and Experience — to honor a new theatre built on the campus of Finn's alma mater, Williams College); "All Fall Down" (heard in both America Kicks Up Its Heels and Romance in Hard Times); "Stupid Things I Won't Do" (from The Royal Family of Broadway, penned for Elaine Stritch, who appeared in a developmental reading); "That's Enough for Me" (from Romance in Hard Times); "I Went Fishing With My Dad" (written while Finn was penning Songs of Innocence and Experience); "When the Earth Stopped Turning" (a personal song of loss); "Anytime" (written at request of Finn's dying friend, Monica Andress, for her funeral).

The show's Falsettos suite includes "Four Jews in a Room Bitching," "A Tight-Knit Family," "Love Is Blind," "My Father Is a Homo," "Trina's Song," "March of the Falsettos," "The Year of the Child," "The Baseball Game," "Unlikely Lovers," "Falsettoland." The vocal arrangements for the suite are by Michael Starobin, Carmel Dean and Michael Morris.

A cast album of Make Me a Song is being planned, and those interested in information about it can sign a mailing list in the lobby.

Director Ruggiero is one of the minds behind the regional hit bio-musical, Ella, about Ella Fitzgerald.

Bonds, who played Freddy in the national tour of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and performed in Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera, takes on the role created in Connecticut by Joe Cassidy, who is now in the cast of the Broadway-aimed musical A Tale of Two Cities, currently in playing a tryout in Sarasota, FL.

Binion appeared in Broadway's Jane Eyre and the first national tour of Sunset Blvd. (going on as Norma Desmond); Wilfert has toured with Finn's The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and appeared in Broadway's recent Assassins and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; and Heller is a character man known for playing Charlie in the York Theatre Company's revival of Merrily We Roll Along as well as starring in Off-Broadway's The Immigrant, the Musical.

Alysha Umphress and Jason Dula are the show's understudies.

Make Me a Song is produced by Junkyard Dog Productions (Randy Adams, Sue Frost, Kenny Alhadeff), Larry Hirschhorn, Jayson Raitt, Stacey Mindich, Jamie deRoy/Eric Falkenstein, in association with Nick Demos/Francine Bizar, Bob Eckert, Impresario's Choice on Broadway, Eileen T'Kaye, Barbara Manochherian/Remmel T. Dickinson.

The creative team includes Luke Hegel-Cantarella (set designer), Alejo Vietti (costume designer), John Lasiter (lighting designer) and Zachary Williamson (sound designer). Cambra Overend is production stage manager.

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Director Ruggiero has been the associate artistic director at TheaterWorks in Hartford for 13 years, and has directed over 30 productions there, including The Exonerated and the highly successful Ella (also co-conception) starring Tina Fabrique. His work has been seen at a number of other regional theatres including Pittsburgh Public Theater, Barrington Stage Company, and The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, where he directed the critically acclaimed production of Take Me Out, which won four Kevin Kline Awards, including one for Best Director of a Play.

Performances of Make Me a Song play Monday-Wednesday at 8 PM, Friday at 9 PM, Saturday at 5 PM and 9 PM, Sunday at 3 PM and 7 PM. Tickets range $26.50-$71.50. Tickets can be purchased by calling Telecharge at (212) 239-6200, or online at Telecharge.com, or in person at New World Stages at 340 W. 50th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.

For more information, visit www.makemeasongthemusical.com.