Review by Kathleen Campion
I had the good fortune to see the brash and fresh, funny and poignant revival of Falsettos just days after our devastating election. The 2 hours, 40 minutes’ running time proved to be the first weep-free/rage-free respite since Tuesday night.
This production, a forced marriage of two one-acts, March of the Falsettos (1981) and Falsettoland (1990), is lively and pointedly without a whiff of tired. William Finn and James Lapine collaborated to rework their historic pieces and give us a shiny, new Falsettos.
The plot isn’t much, just a series of triangulations, as the traditional nuclear family of Mom-Dad-Son rearranges to include a male lover for Dad and a psychiatrist for Mom and for Son. Later, to let a little air in, the “lesbians next door” drop by to inform the second act.
If the plot verges on predictable, the characters are another story. These are not “common” nor “ordinary” people, but, in the best sense, they are simple — as in clear, and accessible, and engaging. Nothing is complicated — Marvin (Christian Borle) wants the love of a close traditional family AND his hot male lover on the side. The woman Trina (Stephanie Block) wants what her mother promised her — a loving husband and brilliant son. The boy Jason (Anthony Rosenthal entirely winning in his debut role), wants to be the focus of his parents’ love; the lover Whizzer (Andrew Rannells) wants to be loved and is peddling his gorgeousness while trusting no one. Okay, okay, everyone wants to be loved. The good news here is that all the maneuvering for that love is informed by funny and complicated lyrics and ironically compatible harmonies. Direction is superb. LaPine maintains a breakneck pace, then offers up urgent relief by punctuating pandemonium with intimate moments — even closing the first act with one.
And…did I mention…there is no spoken word — everything is sung? It’s not so much operatic as delightfully conversational song that packs a narrative wallop. For example, in a remarkable show stopper of a number, Stephanie Block as Trina, the abandoned wife, worried mother, and needy patient, sings us through her nervous breakdown in “I’m Breaking Down” with frenzied flights of humor and jagged riffs of pain. Block’s Trina is the essential distaff counterpoint to this story by men about men.
The cast makes much of a clever set moving upholstered foam shapes into a medley of settings. There is an elegance to the simplicity and a kind of playfulness as well. The post coital moments or even just the familiar rollicking boy-on-boy moments are tender, then whiffy with testosterone, but always genuine. There’s a lot of fun wrapped around some Jewish stereotypes — Jews watching Jason play baseball … Jason learning the Torah for his Bar Mitzvah wearing 80s-style headphones and dancing to the sounds…. This is all fun in New York but I wondered, would that travel? The lesbians next door — consistently billed as such — fulfill more stereotypes — the butch one (Traci Thoms) earns, while the pretty one (Betsy Wolfe) cooks. They begin as comic relief then suddenly Thoms’ Doctor Charlotte becomes the messenger of doom, as she struggles with what she sees in her clinic — “something terrible…passed from man to man.”
The lighting and sound are spare, though the lighting takes a pure romp in the “March of the Falsettos” as Jeff Croiter offers up a flashback, neon-trimmed number.
I’m glad I saw Falsettos in its current iteration and find it a period piece with enormous vitality. Still, it must be said that, because it embraces the gay culture of the early 1980s and presages, then confirms, the grim realities of AIDS that terrorized us then, I suspect we cannot see it now as the exquisitely brave piece it was then.
Falsettos – Music by William Finn; Book and lyrics by William Finn and James Lapine; Directed by James Lapine
WITH: Andrew Rannells (Whizzer), Christian Borle (Marvin), Stephanie J. Block (Trina), Anthony Rosenthal (Jason), Betsy Wolfe (Cordelia), Tracie Thoms (Dr. Charlotte), Brandon Uranowitz (Mendel).
Designed by David Rockwell; choreographed by Spencer Liff, costumes by Jennifer Caprio, lighting by Jeff Crofter, sound by Dan Moses Schreiber, music direction by Vadim Feichtner and orchestrations by Michael Starobin. At the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W.48th St., Manhattan. Through January 8th. Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes with one intermission.