Stunning musicals move audiences to tears

March 2007
Allan Gould

…The third evening of theatre-and-music that I just have to plug is Elegies: A Song Cycle, by the wondrously gifted New York composer William Finn, best known for Falsettos, of several years ago, and the still-running huge hit The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

What could be more potentially depressing and even boring than a cycle of songs about dying, death, AIDS and yes, 9/11?

One of the songs is called “Looking Up” – meaning looking up at the empty space where once stood the Twin Towers of lower Manhattan , and it just may break your heart.

But how wrong you would be.

I am not familiar with the Acting Up Stage Theatre Company – now in its third year – but now that I’ve seen what they can accomplish, I’m just sick that I’ve missed any earlier productions.

The voice – and the acting – of Thom Allison, Barbara Barsky, Steven Gallagher, Eliza-Jane Scott, and Michael Strathmore are among the finest I’ve encountered in four decades of reviewing.

And those songs, those songs – those elegies!

“Life has infinite joys,” sings one about death and dying, and lines like “Beauty and pleasure is all we can hope to understand” will break your heart time and time again. When a dying mother visits and sings about the beloved street that she lived on years earlier, raising her talented son – the composer and lyricist – the n her son sings “When the Earth Stopped Turning,” containing the lines “Why not restart the day? / Make like it never happened,” anyone who has ever buried a loved one will be both thankful as well as moved to tears.

Sobs could be heard throughout the Berkeley Street Theatre. Each song is like an Alice Munro short story – the highest of compliments. This song cycle provided some of the most powerful moments I’ve experienced in musical theater.

Bravo. But it runs only into the first week of March, so hurry!