By Nancy Salz, October, 2016
Music and Lyrics by William Finn
Book by William Finn and James Lapine
Directed by James Lapine
Musical Direction by Vadim Feichtner
Choreography by Spencer Liff
Sets by David Rockwell
Costumes by Jennifer Caprio
Lighting by Jeff Croiter
Produced by Lincoln Center Theatre
Staring Stephanie J. Block, Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells, Anthony Rosenthal, Tracie Thoms, Brandon Uranowitz, Betsy Wolfe
There is an exceptionally tender moment at the end of the first act of Falsettos. Christian Borle as Marvin, a gay father, kneels on the stage – in a spotlight front and center – and explains to his ten-year old son, Jason, in song …
“This here is love, when we’re talking face to face ……
But you can sing a different song.
Watch as you sing how your voice gets much lower.
You’ll be, kid, a man, kid, if nothing goes wrong.
Sing for yourself as we march along.”
At one point only a piano is playing behind Borle’s voice. The audience in the 975 seat Walter Kerr theatre is silent and focused. It is a tribute to Christian Borle’s talent, William Finn’s music and lyrics and James Lapine’s book that we are all so mesmerized and moved.
I wanted more of these moments. There were funny moments and a show stopper or two, but even given its emotional subject matter, this revival of Falsettos neither before nor after was as touching.
Falsettos, which takes place in 1979 and 1981, is the story of how one man’s homosexuality affects his family, lover and friends. This character-driven narrative delves into individual feelings and struggles. Only toward the end of the show does an external force, the disease soon to be known as AIDS, enter to influence the characters and their evolution.
Falsettos was initially two, one-act, off-Broadway musicals: The March of the Falsettos (1981) and Falsettoland (1990). They were joined and premiered as Falsettos in 1992. The plot revolves around Marvin (Borle) a gay man who leaves his wife Trina (Stephanie J. Block) and son Jason (Anthony Rosenthal) for his lover, Whizzer (Andrew Rannells). Trina soon marries their psychiatrist, Mendel, (Brandon Uranowitz). After less than a year, Marvin leaves Whizzer. In Act II, two years later, the family is having a less strained, even peaceful relationship, with Jason moving back and forth between his parents and preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. They all become friends with their lesbian neighbors, Dr. Charlotte (Tracie Thoms) and Cordelia (Betsy Wolfe). Marvin returns to Whizzer, who will soon discover his illness. In a hospital room, Marvin, Trina, Jason and Mendel meld into one big family. Though twenty-four years old, Falsettos resonates today, especially the first act.
There is little dialogue. The entire story is told through Finn’s Tony-winning score. The music, although not always melodic, goes down easily. The lyrics are very effective.
The performances, except in spots, do not measure up to Borle’s. Block as Trina has one big number, “I’m Breaking Down,” that perfectly conveys her conundrum of trying to hold herself and her child together as all around her falls apart. Block is both humorous and frenzied. Andrew Rannells, who is boyishly handsome, feels largely wasted as Whizzer, an under-developed character who serves as Marvin’s love interest. Brandon Uranowitz as Mendel, started out strong but then, maybe as his character, became nebbish-y and largely disappeared even while present on stage. On the other hand, Anthony Rosenthal, as the 10 then 12 year old Jason, was astonishing. He has a huge role and held his own every moment. Tracie Thoms and Betsey Wolfe were just fine as the lesbian couple next door.
David Rockwell’s set was inventive and superb. Before the show began shaped forms of heavy, gray foam (one presumes it was foam) are fit together center stage into a box like a puzzle. Behind is a skyline of Manhattan silhouetted by different colors as the show progresses. The block is moved apart from scene to scene to be furniture or a doorway as required by the story. Ingenious.
The intermittent choreography is by Spencer Liff. Vadim Feichtner is the musical director of a four piece orchestra. Its size fit the story perfectly.
Because it is so character defined, Falsettos is like a small, indie film in scope rather than a Marvel action movie. One longed for a more intimate theatre. We could have been closer to each member of this extended, likable and unusual family and perhaps have found more moments like that described at the end of Act I. We left the theatre wanting more.