Chicago Theater Review: MAKE ME A SONG (Eclectic Full Contact Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on June 14, 2016

in Theater-Chicago

OUT OF CONTEXT BUT EASY TO ADMIRE

William Finn, a gay songwriter with wit and warmth (and second only to Sondheim), writes story ballads and situational numbers that teach as much as touch. Like two of their titles, they’re all about “Change” and “Heart and Music.” In his Tony-winning Falsettos (a merging of his March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland), Finn depicts Marvin and his lover, ex-wife, and son as they cope with known and unknown adversities, including AIDS and coming out. Just as personal, his collaboration with James Lapine in A New Brain chronicles a near-fatal tumor and his astonishing recovery. The much praised and produced The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee captured adolescent angst both public and private.

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The songs from these shows are, however, very specific to their sources. That makes a worthy revue like Make Me A Song: The Music of William Finn (and, of course, the lyrics too) somewhat problematic. Persuasively helmed by Christopher Pazdernik and faithfully performed by four very driven singers, this 95-minute retrospective from the fabulously named Eclectic Full Contact Theatre uproots the 30 songs as much as it honors them.

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Yes, David Belew gets to perform a running joke of snippets about Republican jerks he’s slept with. Yes, there is an eight-song suite from Falsettos that hints at the plot that produced them. But mostly, Make Me A Song delivers some unchaperoned goods, as if selected from a random jukebox or emerging from a showbiz vacuum. And, yes, they’re richly supported by music director Micky York (whose accompaniment occasionally overwhelms more than enchances the singers). Sincerely sung throughout, the selections make their mark, even if their rapid-fire, no-visible-means-of-support, decontextualized presentation does Finn no favors.

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You can savor tenor Max DeTogne’s memory-marker “I Went Fishing With My Dad,” as it looks back to childhood and forward to his son. His “Billy’s Law of Genetics” turns on some wicked rationalizations. “Song of Innocence and Experience” sums up Finn’s constant quest for the heart’s truths as much as it updates William Blake’s masterpiece. Occasionally, the uncredited arrangement creates a musical conversation: The fusion of “I’d Rather Be Sailing” and “Set Those Sails” interweaves distraction, dreaming and optimism. Katherine L. Condit and Jessica Fisher, though sometimes straining for effect and literally flattening notes, create some happy harmony in contrast to Finn’s sardonic lyrics.

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Inexcusably, on opening night the program contained no song list to tell us the titles, the shows they’re from, and the singers who perform them. That vital information, I’m told, will be provided to future audiences through closing night, so my suffering was not in vain. Though that still won’t supply the frame and structure that these scattershot and impressionistic numbers deserve, there is reason enough to recommend the revue.

photos by Jeff Dull

Make Me A Song
Eclectic Full Contact Theatre
Athenaeum Theatre’s Studio One
2936 N Southport Ave
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 2; Sat (July 9 & 16) at 2
ends on July 10, 2016
for tickets, call 773.935.6875 or visit Athenaeum Theatre
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or more info, visit Eclectic

for more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

nikki dearborn June 18, 2016 at 4:38 pm

I loved every minute of this show!

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