Filichia Features: MAKE ME A SONG: Luckily, William Finn Has Made Plenty

Filichia Features: MAKE ME A SONG: Luckily, William Finn Has Made Plenty

What a nice surprise I got while attending The Royal Family of Broadway at Barrington Stage Company in Western Massachusetts.

There was Harriet Harris, playing an old trouper who'd seen and done it all. Now, she was faced with new-fangled notions and innovations, which causes her to crustily damn them as "Stupid Things I Won't Do."

I didn't see it coming, for I didn't remember that the song was included in the 2007 off-Broadway retrospective Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn.

This impressive revue gives us the lyrics of William Finn, too. And the first two songs comment on what both music and lyrics can do for us.

"Make Me a Song" reiterates that they allow us to "drag out the deepest feeling" and "revealing everything raw inside." Finn does it in the very next piece, the ever-so-bouncy and catchy "Heart and Music."

If you didn't know that this came from a show about a writer who suffered an inoperable brain tumor, you wouldn't have ever guessed it. For that matter, who'd ever think that there would be a musical about an inoperable brain tumor?

Sad to say, it was Finn's own story which he turned into a surprisingly life-affirming, autobiographical musical called A New Brain. When you hear "If I'd only had the time, what I'd write for your delight," there is added resonance. Finn wasn't sure he'd have much more time. Thank heavens he has.

Finn realized after learning from one doleful diagnosis after another that "The bad trait will always predominate." The thought then occurred to him that such a situation doesn't only happen in medical calamities. "The dumb trait will always predominate," he insists. "The lazy traits always predominate," too. Not in Finn's case.

With The Royal Family of Broadway back on track - Dear Evan Hansen lead producer Stacey Mindich has taken an interest -- now the most unknown piece in Make Me a Song will be "Hitchhiking across America," the title song of a musical Finn was envisioning.

What an attractive premise: Niagara Falls, The Blue Grass of Kentucky, St. Louis' Gateway Arch, the Grand Canyon, the Redwoods and more can all be yours, courtesy of one stuck-out thumb.

This is all we'll ever see of the show. Finn felt that once he'd written the title song, he'd accomplished everything he wanted to say and could think of nothing more.

The fascinating song starts out celebrating the hitchhiker's promiscuity. He eventually puts that in the back seat in favor of genuine love which, he says, "I never saw coming down the road."

There's good clean fun in "The Baseball Game," where family members are watching their pride and joy, hoping he'll make them proud and joyous at this at-bat. It's one of ten selections included from Falsettos, Finn's masterpiece.

"Billy's Law-of-Genetics" makes you face the music in the way that expression is usually used: "If your father has a stomach, you are sure to get that stomach. It's a simple fact of science. Don't rely on self-reliance." Think of it as Finn's version of Reinhold Niebuhr's famous quotation that begins "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change."

Has Finn ever been sentimental? He certainly is in "Passover," where he remembers being a youngster who traveled with his family to New Jersey to celebrate the holiday. Throughout it, Finn displays his tenderness for his family, but never more than in the final seven lines.

Another song has a female teacher declaring that she needs "Only One" student to be exceptional to satisfy her ambitions. By song's end, however, she looks at the situation in another way - and we don't begrudge her for an instant. (Other teachers get their due for informing Finn early on that "You're Even Better Than You Think You Are.")

The most mundane object can inspire Finn. We've all seen cars on which bumper stickers proclaim "I'd Rather Be Sailing." Who would have thought of making that into a song? Finn did, and it's as sweet as a summer breeze embracing a skiff.

One Finn show, America Kicks Up Its Heels, was produced in 1981, but Finn reworked it in 1989 as Romance in Hard Times. "The one constant," he says, "is 'All Fall Down.'" Yes, this is a keeper: a grown daughter's frenetic tirade about her father who was making a mint, skirted outside the law and was soon out the window.

Throughout Make Me a Song, all your theatergoers will be treated to Finn's quirky, off-center melodies and ear-caressing rhymes. (Who else but he would match "ukulele" to "Israeli"?) Best of all, you'll only need two women, two men and a cabaret setting to make your audience hear many songs that will intrigue them much longer than just the ride home.


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You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Tuesday at and each Friday at His newest book, Broadway Musical MVPs, 1960-2010: The Most Valuable Players of the Past 50 Seasons, is now available through Applause Books and at