Finn, who is Jewish, grew up in Natick, Massachusetts with his parents and siblings, Michael and Nancy. He majored in music at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. When he graduated, he received the Hutchinson Fellowship (a musical composition award). He is also Adjunct Faculty Composer/Lyricist at New York University.
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 2002 musical A New Brain is based on his experience with AVM and his subsequent successful surgery. He lives with his life partner in New York City and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he is a composer and writer. Besides composing for the stage and screen, Finn is member of the NYU Tisch Graduate Program in Musical Theater Writing faculty and he has been the Artistic Head of the Musical Theater Lab at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts for the past four years.
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.'"
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. 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, and ran for 486 performances. It won the 1992 Tony Awards for Best Music and Lyrics and for Best Book, the latter shared with James Lapine.
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 terminal brain cancer. Finn's longtime partner, Arthur Salvadore, is represented by the character Roger Delli-Bovi. Finn's mother is also present in the piece. That musical, A New Brain, starred Malcolm Gets, Kristin Chenoweth and Chip Zien, and premiered Off-Broadway at the Lincoln Center Theater in 1998. 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." 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 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.
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.
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. A live recording of Make Me a Song was released by Sh-K-Boom Records on April 29, 2008.
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.
His next project, 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). 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.
Finn's songs were featured exclusively on Lisa Howard's album Songs of Innocence and Experience, released on April 12, 2011.
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, and Chip Zien.
William Finn, 1993, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1123784)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digital