William Finn

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William Finn
Finn at a Platform Talk at Lincoln Center Theater on November 17, 2016
Background information
Born (1952-02-28) February 28, 1952 (age 72)
Natick, Massachusetts, U.S.
GenresMusical theater
  • Composer
  • Lyricist
Years active1971–present

William Alan Finn (born February 28, 1952) is an American composer and lyricist. He is best known for his musicals, which include Falsettos, for which he won the 1992 Tony Awards for Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical, A New Brain (1998), and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2005).

Early life[edit]

Finn was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He is Jewish,[1] raised in conservative Judaism,[2] and grew up in Natick, Massachusetts, with his parents and siblings, Michael and Nancy. He attended the Temple Israel in Natick, where his Rabbi was Harold Kushner. In Hebrew School, Finn wrote his first play, saying, "I don't think I ever told anyone this: The first play I ever wrote was in Hebrew. I have no idea what it was about. But it was horrible, I guarantee it. I couldn't write plays, and I couldn't really speak Hebrew, so how good could it be?"[2] While attending Natick High School, Finn competed with the Natick Speech Team and was in the drama department headed by Gerald Dyer.[3] For his bar mitzvah, he received a guitar and taught himself to play.[4]

He went on to attend Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, as a music major. He originally entered as a guitar major, "When I got to college I kind of transferred to the piano. I transferred what I knew on the guitar to the piano. But when I was playing the guitar I was always writing my own songs — and singing a few of — I only had one book of folk songs, a blue book, of these sad, sad folk songs. ...I would start them the way they were written and then I would change them to how I wanted them…. I would just use the lyrics — re-musicalize the lyrics."[4] When he graduated, he received the Hutchinson Fellowship (a musical composition award).[5]


Finn is a heavily autobiographical writer; he always writes his own lyrics. His topics have included the gay and Jewish experiences in contemporary America, and also family, belonging, sickness, healing, and loss. According to a 2006 article, "The Washington Post called him 'the composer laureate of loss.'"[6]

Finn is especially noted for his work on what was to become a trilogy of short musicals Off-Broadway. In Trousers, March of the Falsettos, and Falsettoland all chronicle the lives of the character Marvin; his ex-wife, Trina; his boyfriend, Whizzer; his psychiatrist, Mendel; and his son, Jason.[7] Falsettos, the combination of the latter two parts of his Marvin Trilogy (March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland), opened on Broadway at the John Golden Theater on April 29, 1992,[7] and ran for 486 performances. It went on to garner seven nominations at the 46th Tony Awards, winning two: the 1992 Tony Award for Best Original Score as well as the 1992 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical, the latter shared with James Lapine.

A critically acclaimed revival opened on September 29, 2016, at the Walter Kerr Theater and went on to garner five nominations at the 71st Tony Awards, including Best Revival.

With Lapine, Finn penned a musical loosely based on his near-death experience following brain surgery, exploring the role of music in his life and recovery. The musical's main character is a man who has what may be a terminal arteriovenous malformation (AVM). Finn's longtime partner, Arthur Salvadore, is represented by the character Roger Delli-Bovi. Finn's mother is also present in the piece.[6] That musical, A New Brain, starred Malcolm Gets, Kristin Chenoweth and Chip Zien, and premiered Off-Broadway at the Lincoln Center Theater in 1998.[8] The musical won the 1999 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical. The UK premiere was at the 2005 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

At the 2006 Elliot Norton Awards Ceremony, Finn brought his high school drama teacher, Gerry Dyer, onstage with him to present an award. Finn said of Dyer that he "imbued us with a ridiculous sense of our own self-worth."[9] Another student of Gerald Dyer, Alison Fraser, found fame on Broadway, collaborating with Finn in the original casts of In Trousers and March of the Falsettos.

Finn had another Broadway success with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, for which he wrote both music and lyrics. The show won two Tony Awards in 2005-one for Best Book of a Musical, and another for the Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical. It ran Off-Broadway, then on Broadway in 2005[10] and toured the United States in 2006. The show was first workshopped and produced at Barrington Stage Company (BSC) in Pittsfield, MA, where Finn later created The Musical Theatre Lab (MTL) with BSC Artistic Director Julianne Boyd. The MTL is an annual summer lab where emerging musical theatre artists are supported and new musical works are created, fine-tuned and produced under the curatorship of Finn and Boyd.[11]

Three musical revues or song suites of Finn's music have been produced:

  • Infinite Joy, in which the composer played the piano and sang along with an all-star cast, contained several songs from shows that were unfinished, and some that were cut from previous shows.
  • Elegies: A Song Cycle (2003) is a series of songs the composer wrote in memoriam of loved ones now gone, and in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.[12]
  • Make Me a Song, conceived and directed by Rob Ruggiero, premiered at Hartford's Theaterworks in the summer of 2006, opened Off-Broadway in November 2007, and closed in December 2007 after 54 performances.[13] A live recording was released by Sh-K-Boom Records on April 29, 2008.[14]

Finn's first show was called Sizzle and was produced at Williams College in the fall of 1971. Finn wrote the music and lyrics, and his good friend, Charlie Rubin, wrote the libretto. Sizzle was the first original musical produced on the Williams College campus since Stephen Sondheim attended the college over 20 years earlier. Sizzle was a coming of age musical about college students but concluded in an unusual way with the star of the show, played by J. Tyler Griffin, Jr., dying in an electric chair. Sizzle played to packed houses. Rubin possesses a reel-to-reel tape containing excerpts from the show, including most of the music.

His long-in-development show, The Royal Family of Broadway, with a book by Richard Greenberg, was based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, which tells the story of a girl from a family of great Broadway actors who contemplates leaving show business and getting married. It has apparently been shelved, according to William Finn's personal notes for Make Me a Song, Playbill magazine and an article from 2006.[6][15]

Finn's songs were featured exclusively on Lisa Howard's album Songs of Innocence and Experience, released on April 12, 2011.[16]

The musical comedy Little Miss Sunshine, premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse, California, from February 15, 2011, through March 27, 2011. James Lapine wrote the book and is the director, set design by David Korins, staging by Lapine and Christopher Gattelli. The opening night cast featured Hunter Foster (Richard), Malcolm Gets (Frank), Dick Latessa (Grandpa), Taylor Trensch (Dwayne), Georgi James (Olive), and Jennifer Laura Thompson (Sheryl).[17][18] The ensemble, who Jay Irwin wrote "...took the small parts they were given and ran with them, almost right out of the theater as each of them brilliantly played the comedic relief to the family's "straight man"", starred Bradley Dean, Carmen Ruby Floyd, Eliseo Roman, Andrew Samonsky, Sally Wilfert, and Zakiya Young.

Little Miss Sunshine began previews Off Broadway at the Second Stage Theatre in New York on October 15, 2013, and opened November 14, 2013.[19]

Finn's frequent collaborators include librettist James Lapine, director Graciela Daniele and singers/actors Stephen Bogardus, Carolee Carmello, Stephen DeRosa, Alison Fraser, Keith Byron Kirk, Norm Lewis, Michael Rupert, Mary Testa, Christian Borle and Chip Zien.

Finn was one of a selected few composers who contributed to the song cycle Stars of David which premiered in October 2012 at the Philadelphia Theatre Company. It was based on the Abigail Pogrebin's book Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish and starred Nancy Balbirer, Alex Brightman, Joanna Glushak, Brad Oscar and Donna Vivino.[20] Finn also contributed to the Off-Broadway musical Mama & her Boys.[21]

His long-shelved musical, The Royal Family of Broadway, saw its first full production in 2018 at the Barrington Stage Company with Putnam librettist Rachel Sheinkin penning the book.[22]

Personal life[edit]

In 1992, Finn suffered deteriorating vision, dizziness and partial paralysis and was rushed to the hospital. He had arteriovenous malformation, or AVM, in his brain stem. In September 1992, he had Gamma Knife surgery, which obliterated the AVM. After the surgery, Finn experienced a year of humbled serenity and constantly felt like he had a "new brain." Finn's 1998 musical A New Brain is based on his experience with AVM and his subsequent successful surgery.[6]

He is openly gay, and lives with his life partner, Arthur Salvadore, in New York City[23] and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he is a composer and writer.

Finn is a member of the NYU Tisch Graduate Program in Musical Theater Writing faculty.[24] He is the co-founder and artistic producer of the Musical Theatre Lab at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, established in 2006.[25]

Writing credits[edit]




Notable Songs:

  • "Anytime (I Am There)"
  • "The Baseball Game"
  • "Change"
  • "Four Jews in a Room Bitching"
  • "Goodbye / Boom Boom"
  • "Gordo's Law of Genetics"
  • "Heart and Music"
  • "Holding to the Ground"
  • "How Marvin Eats His Breakfast"
  • "Sailing"
  • "I Have Found"
  • "The I Love You Song"
  • "Infinite Joy"
  • "Just Go"
  • "Monica and Mark"
  • "Republicans"
  • "Set Those Sails"
  • "Song of Innocence and Experience"
  • "Unlikely Lovers"
  • "What More Can I Say?"
  • "What Would I Do?"
  • "When the Earth Stopped Turning"
  • "Whizzer Going Down"

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Association Category Nominated work Result
1991 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Music Falsettoland Won
Outstanding Lyrics Won
1992 Tony Award Best Book of a Musical Falsettos Won
Best Original Score Won
1999 Drama Desk Award Outstanding New Musical A New Brain Nominated
Outstanding Book of a Musical Nominated
Outstanding Music Nominated
Outstanding Lyrics Nominated
2005 Tony Award Best Original Score The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Music Nominated
Outstanding Lyrics Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Friedman, Jonathan C."Chapter Three" Rainbow Jews:Jewish and Gay Identity in the Performing Arts, Lexington Books, 2007, ISBN 0-7391-1448-4, p.74
  2. ^ a b Hoffman, Wayne. [1] Tablet October 26, 2016
  3. ^ Aucoin, Don. [2] Boston Globe August 19, 2016
  4. ^ a b Viagas, Robert. [3] Playbill February 10, 2004
  5. ^ Ruhlmann, William."William Finn Biography new.music.yahoo.com, accessed August 22, 2011
  6. ^ a b c d Pall, Ellen."The Long-Running Musical of William Finn's Life" nytimes.com, February 20, 2012
  7. ^ a b Henry, William A."The Quirky William Finn"Time Magazine, May 11, 1992
  8. ^ Brantley, Ben."Theater Review:A Romp Through the Valley of Death"The New York Times (requires registration), June 19, 1998
  9. ^ MacDonald, Sandy.Camp, Mays, Spamalot, et al. Win 2006 Elliot Norton Awards" theatermania.com, May 23, 2006
  10. ^ Isherwood, Charles."Six Misfits Test Wits on Bigger Platform"The New York Times, May 3, 2005
  11. ^ "Barrington Stage History, Commitment to New Work and the Musical Theatre Lab" Barrington Stage Company, accessed August 22, 2011
  12. ^ Holden, Stephen.Departed Friends Vibrantly Recalled in Song"The New York Times (requires registration), March 28, 2003
  13. ^ Midgette, Anne. "A Songwriter’s Gamut, Personal and Poignant With Notes in Between" The New York Times, November 21, 2007
  14. ^ "Music Theatre International: Licensing Musical Theater Theatrical Performance Rights and Materials to Schools, Community and Professional Theatres since 1952". Mtishows.com. Retrieved 2014-07-04.
  15. ^ Jones, Kenneth."'Make Me a Song, Finn's Revue of "Heart and Music," Opens in NYC" playbill.com, November 12, 2007
  16. ^ Cerasaro, Pat."SOUND OFF Special Interview: Lisa Howard on William Finn Album, TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN, and More" broadwayworld.com, April 13, 2011
  17. ^ Jones, Kenneth."Road Trip! Finn & Lapine's 'Little Miss Sunshine' Musical Begins World-Premiere Run in CA" Archived 2011-02-18 at the Wayback Machine playbill.com, February 15, 2011
  18. ^ Irwin, Jay."BWW Reviews: 'Little Miss Sunshine' at the La Jolla Playhouse" broadwayworld.com, March 26, 2010
  19. ^ Isherwood, Charles (2013-11-14). "'Little Miss Sunshine' Opens at Second Stage". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-08-04.
  20. ^ "Songs by William Finn, Tom Kitt, Jeanine Tesori, Amanda Green Bring Shimmer to Stars of David Musical, Starting Oct. 17". Playbill.com. Retrieved 2014-07-04.
  21. ^ "Mama and her Boys — Ethan Paulini". Ethanpaulini.com. Retrieved 2014-07-04.
  22. ^ "William Finn's the Royal Family of Broadway to Receive World Premiere at Barrington Stage Company". 5 October 2017.
  23. ^ Guthmann, Edward."A playwright steeped in loss finds bliss in 'Spelling Bee'" sfgate.com, February 18, 2006
  24. ^ "Bill Finn". tisch.nyu.edu. Retrieved 21 February 2023.
  25. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Barrington Stage Company Will Honor William Finn at NYC Gala" Playbill, September 20, 2016
  26. ^ " Dangerous Games Listing" playbillvault.com, accessed November 5, 2013
  27. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Lapine, Finn and Fitzhugh Flex Their Muscle June 13 – July 22 in Chi" playbill.com, June 13, 2001
  28. ^ "William Finn" mtishows.com
  29. ^ "William Finn" mtishows.com

External links[edit]