The original production of Falsettos opened in 1992 when the AIDS epidemic was front and center. The story of a dysfunctional family and their friends confronting its affect on one of their own was a powerful theatrical event. Now, almost 25 years later, the emotional wallop still resonates in this superb, forceful revival.
The musical is a merging of two one-act shows, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland, by composer William Finn and librettist James Lapine [the creation of Falsettos was originally conceived at Connecticut’s Hartford Stage in 1991.] The story involves Marvin, a neurotic and insecure man who has recently left his wife Trina and son Jason to take up residence with his male lover Whizzer. In response, she begins therapy with the psychiatrist Mendel who, enraptured with the vulnerable woman, eventually marries her. The five, however, stay intertwined as their complicated and complex lives play out. In Act II, two lesbian lovers, Marvin’s next door neighbors, are added to the mix just as AIDS rears its ugly head, having a profound affect on all the characters.
The book by William Finn and James Lapine, a less then mainstream creation when it debuted in the early 1990’s, comes across as more matter-of-fact in today’s world. At its core, the show is one of relationships and family and individuals coming together in the time of crisis. The concluding scenes are still powerful and forceful stagecraft.
William Finn, who won the Tony Award for Best Original Score during the show’s original run, has written tender ballads, forceful anthems, and comedic gems. Finn is skillfully able to produce material that delves into the soul of his characters, which gives voice to their frustration, rage, happiness, remorse, and, finally grief.
The seven member cast is stellar. You would be hard pressed to find a better group of actors and actresses on a Broadway stage. They are led by Christian Borle as Marvin. Borle finally gets to portray a more regular, yet flawed, individual then he has done in his most recent Broadway outings. He is somewhat arrogant and very much self-centered, but the actor tempers these traits with a well-rounded portrayal of a man still unsure of his place in the universe. Andrew Rannells, as Marvin’s male companion Whizzer, gives a brash, self-confident performance. He exudes a live-for-the-moment sexuality that, by the middle of Act II, has transformed him into a sorrowful, tragic figure. Brandon Uranowitz is wonderful as Mendel the conflicted psychiatrist who is a bundle of nervous energy. He can be overwrought and frenzied, but also provides stability and reflection to the characters when times get tough. Stephanie J. Block, who plays the suffering wife, Trina, finally has a part worthy of her talents. Her first act number, “Trina’s Song”, is a culmination of all her pent up feelings--indignation, exasperation, outrage, and anger. It is a tour de force performance. Tracie Thoms is satisfying as Dr. Charles, one part of the lesbian couple living next door to Marvin. She adds a modicum of seriousness as the AIDS devastation takes center stage. Betsy Wolfe gives the production a comedic lift as Dr. Charles’ daft, well-meaning companion, Cordelia. Anthony Rosenthal is a self-assured youngster as the Bar Mitzvah aged Jason. He easily holds his own with his more veteran cast mates and provides the central pivot, which everything revolves around.
Director James Lapine, who also helmed the original production, obviously knows the material very well. However, this is not a rote re-creation. The musical is fresh and vibrant, helped along by the laudable cast. Scenes seamlessly meld into each other and the interactions of the characters ring true. Lapine also shows a deft touch by not hitting the audience over the head forewarning us with doom and gloom. The urgency and seriousness of the storyline evolves slowly and naturally.
David Rockwell’s modular scenic design accomplishes a number of different functions. They become the building blocks of the set and segment the stage into various backdrops. It can also be seen as the interlocking pieces of the puzzle of life and a metaphor for individuals building and rebuilding their lives.
Falsettos, a riveting and captivating production with an outstanding cast and praiseworthy score.