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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review

Elegies: A Song Cycle

I hate that you can't call me back
I hate it like a heart attack
--- from " I Do, I Do, I Do (for James Goldman)"
Cranwell Resort

Elegies: A Song Cycle
Elegies soars with only minimal props, as in the comical "My Dogs" which is one of the few songs sung by Bradford William Anderson,
(Photo: Kevin Sprague)
As Sally Wilfert's above quoted lyric about a friend who's no longer around to talk to her makes clear, Elegies, which premiered at Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater in 2003 is about death and dying. But don't let that stop you from seeing William Finn's lovely musical assemblage of ruminations on departed friends, his mother -- and even loved and not so loved dogs.

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!).

Falsettos -- also at Barrington Stage, directed by Bob Ruggiero and featuring Sandy Binion's rich mezzo
Elegies, DC production
A New Brain

Elegies: A Song Cycle
Composer: William Finn
Director: Rob Ruggiero
Cast: Bradford William Anderson, Sandy Binion, Romain Frugé, André Ward, and Sally Wilfert
Musical Direction: Deborah Abramson
Set & Costume Design: Tobin Ost
Lighting Designer: Matthew Richards
Sound Design: Randy Hansen
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes without intermission Barrington Stage at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, Mass (413) 528-8888 http://www.
7 p.m. Tuesday; 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Matinees, 2 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $15-$48
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on August 14th press opening
Musical Numbers
  • Looking Up Quintet/Company
  • Mister Choi Et Madame G/Roman Frugé, Sally Wilfert
  • Mark's All-Male Thanksgiving/; Roman Frugé
  • Only One/ Sandy Binion
  • Joe Papp/André Ward with Roman Frugé & Bradford William Anderson
  • Peggy Hewitt Et Mysty del Giorno/Bradford William Anderson & Company
  • Passover/ Sally Wilfert
  • Infinite Joy/Sandy Binion
  • Jack Erik Williams/Roman Frugé
  • I Do, I Do (Do (for James Goldman)/ Sally Wilfert
  • Dear Reader (How Criticism Kills the Artist)/ Sally Wilfert & Sandy Binion
  • Monica & Mark/Roman Frugeé, André Ward, Bradford William Anderson
  • Anytime (I Am There) Sally Wilfert
  • My Dog/Bradford William Anderson
  • Venice/Roman Frugé, André Ward, Bradford William Anderson
  • 14 Dwight Ave, Natick, Massachusetts/Sandy Binion, Bradford William Anderson
  • When the Earth Stopped Turning/ Bradford William Anderson
  • Mark's All-Male Thanksgiving (reprise)/Roman Frugé
  • Saying Our Goodbyes/André Ward, Sally Wilfert
  • Boom Boom/Company
  • Looking Up/Sandy Binion
  • Goodbyes (Finale)/Company

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