Of William Finn’s two scores in this decade, this is the lesser known, but by far and away the better of the two. It remains an acquired taste, due to the extremely sad subject matter…the show consists of musicalized stories about people the composer knew who have died. That said, one could hardly ask for a better show on the subject.
The format is reminiscent of Maltby and Shire’s Starting Here, Starting Now and Closer Than Ever, in that every song is like a short story in itself. The material is actually surprisingly positive, as Finn prefers to focus on the lives of his late friends, rather than their deaths.
There are even a few upbeat numbers (such as “Joe Papp”, “Passover”, and the bittersweetly hilarious “My Dogs”), although the bulk of the score is expectedly made up of moving ballads in the vein of “Unlikely Lovers” or “What Would I Do?” from Falsettoland. These songs are beyond ravishing, especially “Infinite Joy” and “Anytime (I Am There)”, and the show as a whole is incredibly moving.
The original Lincoln Center production of the piece featured an all-star cast including such musical-theater luminaries as Carolee Carmello, Christian Borle, Michael Rupert and Betty Buckley. Buckley receives a particularly rich piece of character material in “Only One”, the defiantly unsentimental credo of a dying English teacher who has lived a lonely life due to her prickly disposition, but feels it was all worth it if just one student was inspired by her example.
Because of the subject matter, it seems unlikely that this show will ever capture the popular consciousness even as much as The Falsettos or A New Brain, but it is a breathtakingly beautiful piece of theatrical caviar, and I ultimately cannot help recommending it.