ELEGIES: A SONG CYCLE by William Finn, directed by Lezlie Wade (Acting Up Stage). At the Berkeley Street Upstairs Theatre (26 Berkeley). To March 3. $21-$35. 416-368-3110. See Continuing, page 72. Rating: NN Rating: NN
If there's a message to William Finn's Elegies: A Song Cycle, it's that life is short and precious. Take that advice and skip this show.
Inspired by the deaths of Finn's friends (many from New York's theatre community), his mother and the victims of 9/11, the glorified cabaret piece consists of some 18 elegiac songs. A few, predictably, are quite moving, most attempt wit, but at least half a dozen pad the work unnecessarily.
The most successful songs also feel like the most personal, and they're always full of subtext. 14 Dwight Avenue, Natick, Massachusetts, for instance, is a subtly moving song about a mother (Barbara Barsky) and son (Michael Strathmore) driving around town for the last time before the mother's death.
Finn's range is limited. He can do urbane irony, but his attempts at whimsy fail spectacularly, and an early song about mourning the sudden departure of Korean store owners feels downright patronizing. The September 11 material feels contrived, and director Lezlie Wade's attempts to link the disparate songs don't resonate.
Best is a sequence of loosely related songs involving a group of friends, many of whom died of AIDS-related illness. Thom Allison delivers two such numbers with an astonishing mixture of bravado, happiness and suppressed pain that adds layers of emotion to the words and music.