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Finn, William


Born: Boston, Massachusetts, 28 February 1952

Genre: Musical Theater

Best-selling album since 1990: Falsettoland (1990)

William Finn is a prominent Tony Awardwinning composer/lyricist in New York's Broadway Theater circles. His best-known work gives a witty, human voice to the challenges and tribulations of American gay life. Somewhat of a theatrical renaissance man, Finn has also worn the hats of director, playwright, and performer.

Finn grew up in the Boston suburb of Natick, Massachusetts, and later studied at Williams College, where he began writing musicals. Known for a magnetic, sometimes eccentric personality, his first production was a failed musical about the executed McCarthy era spies, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, titled Sizzle. In 1976 he moved to New York City and immediately advanced his career by impressing the creative staff of Playwrights Horizons with his show concepts and music. One of Manhattan's most prestigious Off-Broadway theater companies, Playwrights Horizons produced In Trousers, Finn's musical about a family man named Marvin who discovers that he is gay. Playwrights Horizons staged Finn's continuing saga of Marvin with March of the Falsettos in 1981; in 1990 the same organization produced Falsettoland to complete the trilogy. The three plays examined many issues of Marvin's new life, but it was Falsettoland, which touched on AIDS, that drew a larger audience to the Marvin Trilogies. A decision followed to combine the last two parts of the trilogy into one show simply titled Falsettos. It opened on Broadway at the Golden Theatre in 1992 under the direction of James Lapine, who also helped write some of the show's libretto. Falsettos ran for 486 performances, and Finn won two Tony Awards, Broadway's highest honor, for Best Original Score and Best Book in a Musical for the 1992 season.

Days after accepting his Tony Awards, Finn was beset with a brain condition that was initially diagnosed as inoperable. Pondering his mortality and all that he had left to accomplish, Finn received a new diagnosis that revealed the condition to be treatable, and he went on to a full recovery. This experience is the basis for his play, A New Brain, which opened on Broadway at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre in Manhattan's Lincoln Center in 1998. Finn composed the music and co-wrote the play's book with Lapine, who was by then a regular collaborator. A New Brain did not overwhelm the critics and lasted only seventy-eight performances before closing; however, the cast recording of the show's music still sells well.

In 2001, Finn released Infinite Joy (2001), a live recording of twenty-one compositions from Falsettos, A New Brain, his upcoming Royal Family, and some previously unreleased material. Infinite Joy was recorded at a popular Broadway talent cabaret venue, Joe's Pub, in downtown Manhattan and features Finn's craggy, expressive singing on some of the songs. That year the Pegasus Players in Chicago produced a new musical by Finn called Muscle.

A performer at heart, Finn has acted in earlier versions of In Trousers in addition to performing in other projects, usually of his creation. He had a small role in the film Life with Mikey (1993). In 2002 he directed the Falsettos veteran Chip Zien, in Zien's one-man show Death In Ashtabula. Falsettos returned to the New York stage for six performances in January 2003, featuring members of the original cast in a special program by Playwrights Horizons. Finn's musical Looking Up, a revue of his songs, had a limited one-month run at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre in March 2003.

Finn is one of a handful of composers and playwrights with the courage to openly address issues affecting the gay experience and bring those issues successfully to a mainstream audience.


In Trousers: Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording (Original Cast, 1979); March of the Falsettos: 1981 Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording (DRG, 1981); Falsettoland: 1990 Off-Broadway Cast Recording (DRG, 1990); A New Brain: Original Cast Recording (BMG, 1998); Infinite Joy: The Songs of William Finn (RCA Victor, 2001).

donald lowe

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