ELEGIES: A Song Cycle

by William A. Finn
Directed by Paul Daigneault
Speakeasy Stage Company
BCA Theatre
through May 29

Reviewed by Will Stackman

Since he came to major attention with "Falsettos", Natick-born William Finn has produced surprising musical theatre works which extend the scope of the form. He's also somehow been a central part of several shows himself. So a song cycle, like "Elegies", originally produced at Lincoln Center about a year ago, seems a perfectly logical choice as a way to express his own very developed sense of mortality. The Speakeasy Stage Company, which has produced both "Falsettos" and "A New Brain" in past seasons, directed as here by Paul Daigneault is certainly the best choice for its New England premiere. Moreover, this production coincides with the New Opera and Musical Theatre Initiative's Sixth Annual "Birth of a Musical" Festival (May 7 - 16). Finn himself will be in town on the 15th for Q&A at noon on Sat, the 15th and plans to see the production that night. <.p>

Speakeasy has fielded a first rate cast with their musical director, Paul S. Katz onstage at the keyboard. All five singers have dealt with the BCA Theatre basement acoustics before and with Katz in the same space instead of behind the scenes really get to show their stuff. Leigh Barrett, who got her IRNE this year for roles in three top drawer shows, one of them Speakeasy's "A Class Act", also had the lead in Speakeasy's production of "Passion" as well as being featured in three of their InConcert events. She chalks up another winning performance here, switching from the stern teacher of "Only One" to the bittersweet "Infinite Joy" and finally "Looking Up" the penultimate song in the 9/11/2001 sequence which ends the cycle. Kerry Dowling, a Speakeasy veteran has an equally compelling voice, which stood her in good stead as Mother during the both revivals of "BatBoy", the Company's longest running show. She's vivacious during "Passover" and heartfelt for "Anytime (I Am There)". She and Leigh also nail their duet, "Dear Reader".

Of the three men in the cast, versatile Will McGarrahan, who appeared for Speakeasy last year as Michael Bennett in "A Class Act" and in drag for "Ruthless" is the most definite avatar for the author. He starts off with "Mark's All-Male Thanksgiving", then has a grand time with "Jack Eric Williams (and Other 3-Name Composers) --like William Alan Finn. He shines in the trios "Monica & Mark" and the fantasy "Venice". Michael Mendiola, another "BatBoy" veteran, and earlier the lead in "Floyd Collins" has two fine comic turns in "Fred", a paean to an eccentric chicken farmer and a lament concerning "My Dogs". After good work with Barrett in "14 Dwight Ave., Natick Massachusetts", his elegy to his mother, he starts of the finale with "When the World Stops Turning." Jose Delgado, the fifth member of the ensemble, was assistant music director for "The Last Five Years" at Speakeasy earlier in the season. Besides taking the tenor in the ensemble, he starts the show with Finn's elegy to a corner Korean grocery, and gets to lead "Joe Papp" --who "don't take crap".

It might be sufficient just to put this cast onstage and let them sing, but Speakeasy has striking photo-montage backdrop--and floor-- created by Caleb Wertenbaker. The center of it all is a striking plus-shaped view looking up from the World Trade Center Plaza. Michael J. Eddy as provided interesting areas without a followspot plus gobos and a range of backlighting. Amanda Mujica has created a costume design which let's everyone slip into character while seeming to be merely casually dressed. Daigneault has used an interesting convention of adding different chairs to the stage as the cycle unfolds, which by the end stand as mute reminders for those who've "said goodbye."

This show and its sterling performance makes a perfect centerpiece for the NOMTI events, which this year include "The Chimes" an adaptation of Dickens' New Years Eve story by Neal Hampton, "The Woman Upstairs" by Kerrigan and Loudermilk, and Kevin Bleau's "The Mission." There's also "Smooth Sailing" by Morgan and Proctor, a concert production by New England Light Opera. For more information, surf to New Opera and Musical Theatre Initiative. Immediately after "Elegies" closes, Daigneault will direct Barrett in a Sondheim revue which opens the Gloucester Stage Co. season. She's also got two major Sondheim productions scheduled for next season. The rest of the company will no doubt be busy as well.

It should also be noted that coincident with NOMTI, the Stoneham Theatre has the Massachusetts premiere of McGovern and Powers "Lizzie Borden" starring Jayne Paterson and the New Rep has their own homegrown musical burlesque "Scapin" based on Moliere's original starring local actor/playwright John Kuntz. Indeed, smaller scale musical theatre is proliferating across the country. A new project has just been announced in Philadelphia. More of the large pool of underused musical theatre talent may just get to sing for their supper--as long as they don't have to do it after serving someone else's very often.

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