book and lyrics by Bill Russell
music by Janet Hood
Elegies For Angels Punks and Raging Queens is a dramatic and musical theater piece composed of free verse poems and songs reflecting the lives of people who have lived with and died from AIDS. There are over 30 poems… touching, dramatic, humorous. Each poem represents a character who has died from AIDS. The songs reflect the feeling of the living… the people who have felt the loss of so many friends and loved ones. Elegies… can be performed with a small group of actors playing several roles each or with one actor for each character, as has been done in the majority or stagings.
Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens had two primary sources of inspiration. When the Names Project Quilt was first unveiled on the Washington Mall in October of 1987, I was overwhelmed by its power and presence. I was also very familiar with Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, the collection of free verse epitaphs of deceased characters speaking from a cemetery in the fictional town of Spoon River, Illinois. Having written poetry for a number of years, primarily in my own style of free verse, I had the idea to attempt a Spoon River of AIDS with the Quilt replacing Masters’ cemetery as the cohesive metaphor. So I started writing monologues in the voices of characters who had died from AIDS, based on friends and acquaintances and stories I’d heard. I thought there were theatrical possibilities in the material and asked Janet Hood if she would be interested in collaborating on songs to accompany the monologues, in the way that Charles Aidman incorporated classic American folk songs into Spoon River when he adapted that piece for the stage in the 60’s.As the piece developed over a number of productions in New York and then London, we tried to broaden its scope to reflect the wide variety of people AIDS has affected. Because the piece is modular, rather than linear, I still continue to update it occasionally. But I don’t see Elegies… as a literal history of the epidemic — rather a more personal response to the incalculable loss so many have endured.
To my knowledge, the benefit we did on April 2, 2001, in New York had the largest cast ever assembled for this piece. That was most gratifying, as the amount of loss due to this plague is, after all, part of the point. Over the years, Elegies… has afforded Janet and me the opportunity to work with many extraordinary performers and the production represented by the New York benefit recording gave us the gift of 52 amazing people inhabiting our characters and songs – the memories of which we will cherish forever.
- Playbill.com article about the Fynsworth Alley CD
- Talkin’ Broadway article by Bruce Bossard on the genesis of the show
- Synopsis at the NODA Guide to Musical Theatre
- Production information at Samuel French Inc., the author’s representatives
- Aislesay interview with Bill Russell
- Wikipedia article for the show