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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review
Elegies: A Song Cycle
Elegies is as often funny as it is funereal, touching but not painfully tear inducing. It does exactly what religious rituals like the shivas and wakes are supposed to do -- it gives Finn a chance to remember and pay tribute. The program notes wisely include some notes on the people in the songs, including James Goldman, who wrote the book for the Barrington Stage season's big hit, Follies (Review), and for whom a new song was added ( I Do, I Do, I Do). Not that it really matters if you know who these people are or not since it's easy to transfer the emotions their elegies evoke to our own experiences.
The songs span a wide range of moods and the performers' presentation skills are as outstanding as their voices. While all have plenty of solo opportunities, Bob Ruggiero has used the ensemble quite elegantly to at times play back-up to whoever is center stage in such numbers as "Venice.". Set designer Tobin Ost, has enhanced some of the songs with simple but humorous props, like the dog house and photos for Bradford William Anderson's droll "My Dogs"("His ears felt like a rug, I bought him for a dollar, I bathed him in the sink, each day the dog got sicker, I gave him milk to drink, I also gave him liquor.").
A natural disaster -- a severe storm that struck Great Barrington just before curtain time -- gave those who attended last Sunday's opening at the beautifully restored Mahaiwe Theater a very special opportunity to see the famous the show must go on rule in action and to hear Bill Finn's music sung unplugged -- that is, without amplification. To mike-dependent modern singers this can be daunting, but this cast proved to be more than up to the challenge. In just a few minutes, they let their wonderful, natural instruments kick in without electronic assistance. What a treat to hear the pure, unadulterated voices, which got stronger and richer from song to song. What's more, everything worked just fine, even without stage lighting.
The power outage problem resolved itself about midway through the show, just as Sally Wilfert came to a newly meaningful line -- "I don't know why this happened" -- in "Anytime (I Am There)." It's hard to say whether the elegies tended not to resonate quite as strongly during the last part of the show because some of the musical goodbyes just worked too hard to pull at the heartstrings, or whether things were a bit anti-climactic once the show proceeded with amplification and stage lights as originally planned.
Given the cleverness of Finn's lyrics, I suppose the boost from amplification will insure that not a word will be missed for the rest of the show's run. Still, given the Mahaiwe's fine acoustics and the fact that the show is scored for a single piano which as superbly played by Deborah Abramson never overpowers the voices, I can't help wishing that the director and cast would continue to let audiences experience the nowadays rare pleasure of hearing at least some of these songs unmiked.
Postscript: Mr. Finn is finishing up a song cycle, inspired by William Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Experience," that will be performed Oct. 7 and 8 as part of the gala opening of Williams College's '62 Center for Theatre and Dance. The songs will be about the college, from which Finn graduated in 1974, and its new theaters. Next summer, he will produce a festival of new musicals at Barrington Stage to provide young, untested composers with an opportunity to have their work seen and heard. (What a great idea!).
LINKS TO REVIEWS OF OTHER FINN MUSICALS
Falsettos -- also at Barrington Stage, directed by Bob Ruggiero and featuring Sandy Binion's rich mezzo
Elegies, DC production
A New Brain