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Broadway Close Up: William Finn

William Finn’s songs are given the first class treatment.

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Composer/lyricist William Finn and host Sean Hartley as they appeared in Broadway Close Up: William Finn (Photo credit: David Andrako)

Composer/lyricist William Finn and host Sean Hartley as they appeared in Broadway Close Up: William Finn (Photo credit: David Andrako)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

The Broadway Close Up series gave William Finn, that endearing curmudgeon and master of the sardonic and heartbreaking, a brilliant showcase.   Sean Hartley, host of the series, got Mr. Finn to open up about his life and work as a cast of exceptional singer/actors performed his songs which ranged from hilarious political commentary to ethereal explorations of the deepest emotions.  Perhaps only Sondheim has this command of language melded with music.

Two veterans of the most recent revival of On the Town were splendid interpreters of Finn’s songs.  First, Stephen DeRosa conjured a second-rate out-of-town production of March of the Falsettos populated by egos and amateurs.  He sang “The Baseball Game” brilliantly-and schizophrenically—taking on each character of this bitingly satirical song.  Later he sang the scathing, sexually explicit “Republicans” in which a liberal gets even with a Republican in an unprintable way.   Then his colleague Alysha Umphress sang a rousing “Set Those Sails” (In Trousers) and “Change” (A New Brain), both songs dealing differently with moving on.  Ms. Umphress’s “Song of the Full Refrigerator,” about the temptations of food—“eat first and get depressed later”—was scarily right on the money.

Demond Green, an edgy dynamo, showed a hushed side in “I Went Fishing with My Dad,” a beautiful Dad/Son song.  He displayed his, and Finn’s, edgier, angrier side in “It’s Not My Job” and “Fuck Birthdays.”

Sally Wilfert as she sang her medley of songs at in Broadway Close Up: William Finn (Photo credit: David Andrako)

Sally Wilfert as she sang her medley of songs at in Broadway Close Up: William Finn (Photo credit: David Andrako)

Sally Wilfert wrapped her sumptuous voice around three songs, ranging from the wistfully sad “Anytime” (Elegies) to the end-of-my-rope “Something Better Better Happen” (Little Miss Sunshine) and finally, the incredibly touching “Raise Up Big Please This Umbrella,” a heartrending exploration of the mind of a stroke victim from What You Think When You Can’t Sleep.

Young Taylor Trensch sang with amazing maturity.  His two songs were challenging stories, the first “And They’re Off,” about a dad who ruined his family with his gambling and “Mark’s All Male Thanksgiving,” an extraordinarily detailed and funny account of a the ritual annual celebrations of a bunch of gay guys on…Thanksgiving.  These torrents of words didn’t faze Trensch.

Four young singers from Finn’s Barrington Stage summer academy acquitted themselves well.  Three had solos:  Sara Kase’s “Passover” was insightful and full of delightful images; Emily Reeves’ lisping “Woe Is Me,” about the desperate need to win a spelling bee was funny and unsettling; and Matthew Krob shared the stage wonderfully with Betty Buckley in the “14 Dwight Avenue, Natick, Massachusetts,” the tender remembrances of family, friends and home.  Ben Schrager, unfortunately wasn’t given a solo, but did yeoman duty joining the others in backup duty.

Matthew Krob and Betty Buckley as they sang “14 Dwight Avenue, Natick, Massachusetts” at Broadway Close Up: William Finn (Photo credit: David Andrako)

Matthew Krob and Betty Buckley as they sang “14 Dwight Avenue, Natick, Massachusetts” at Broadway Close Up: William Finn (Photo credit: David Andrako)

Ms. Buckley also sang “Venice,” the bittersweet yearnings of a woman to see that beautiful city before she dies.

Norm Lewis ended the show with a thrilling performance of Finn’s masterpiece of optimism, “Infinite Joy.”

There are several more Broadway Close Ups coming up soon.  Check them out.

Broadway Close Up: William Finn (October 26, 2015)

Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Music Center, 129 West 67th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets call 212-501-3330 or visit http://www.KaufmanMusicCenter.org/MCH

Running time:  two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (279 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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