For musical-theater buffs who have seen just one or two William Finn musicals (the best known being The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Falsettos, and A New Brain), the breezy revue Make Me A Song offers an excellent opportunity to hear more of the composer-lyricist's smart, funny songs.
Rob Ruggiero conceived and directed the 90-minute show, and he has assembled a talented four-person cast, plus the hard-working pianist Darren R. Cohen (who sings a little too). The set is simple-a piano on a circular platform that swivels and a neon likeness of Finn above it-but Ruggiero provides variety by moving the performers around in groups, pairs, and solos.
Finn's songs also offer tremendous variety, from the humorous (the four-part Republicans) to the heartbreaking (Anytime [I Am There]). One selection from A New Brain is called Heart and Music, and all of Finn's music has a lot of heart. His songs are deeply personal, expressing what it's like to be gay, Jewish, and a liberal in a country run by conservatives.
One of the highlights is a medley from Falsettos, for which Finn won two Tonys. The cast members-Sandy Binion, D. B. Bonds, Adam Heller, and Sally Wilfert -harmonize beautifully on Four Jews in a Tub Bitching. Heller's voice isn't quite up to the challenge of singing the role of Marvin, though he tries his best. He does better on comic numbers like Stupid Things I Won't Do (written for Elaine Stritch for the unproduced musical The Royal Family of Broadway).
Bonds does a wonderful job with the lovely ballad I'd Rather Be Sailing, which is nicely paired with Wilfert's fine rendition of Set Those Sails. Binion shows off her powerful voice on All Fall Down. Other highlights include Bonds' I Went Fishing With My Dad, Wilfert's Anytime, and the whole cast's Song of Innocence and Experience.
Even without material from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (which is still running on Broadway), this compilation displays the breadth of Finn's formidable talent. His best songs combine bright melodies with brainy lyrics, and Make Me a Song will be music to the ears of Finn fans and neophytes alike.