Elegies: A Song Cycle

Elegies: A Song Cycle



Songwriter William Finn has always had an idiosyncratic approach to his work, bordering on autobiography while creating projects for the musical theater. With 1998's A New Brain, he began to cross that border, writing a show that told of an incident in his own life, only thinly veiled. 2001's Infinite Joy: The Songs of William Finn, in which he participated with other singers, often dispensed with that veil, and Elegies: A Song Cycle, which, like most of his works, was mounted by the Playwrights Horizons theater company, starting March 24, 2003, at the off-Broadway Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City, never pretends to be anything other than a series of songs concerning Finn himself, his friends, his relatives, and even his pets. Gay, Jewish, and urban, Finn has seen many associates succumb to AIDS and, like any middle-aged person, has experienced the deaths of other loved ones as well, and Elegies, magnificently sung by a five-person cast including Broadway star Betty Buckley and Michael Rupert (who was featured in the earlier Finn show March of the Falsettos), is a musical tribute to those departed. Finn doesn't hesitate to name them, from theatrical producer Joseph Papp (head of the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, which also mounted Finn shows) to less well-known figures including fellow songwriters and Finn's mother. But despite being so particular, the songs, overflowing with melody and including extremely witty, literate lyrics, are touching even if the listener doesn't know the people involved. And the particular gives way to a more general tone in the final songs, "Goodbye/Boom Boom" and "Looking Up," which inevitably treat the lives lost on September 11, 2001, in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The material is never maudlin, however. "The ending's not the story," Keith Byron Kirk declares in "Goodbye," and it's the stories that interest Finn here.

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