|Betsy Wolfe, Christian Borle, Anthony Rosenthal, Andrew Rannells, Tracie Thoms, Brandon Uranowitz and Stephanie J. Block. Photo: Joan Marcus|
By Music and Lyrics by William Finn
Book by William Finn and James Lapine
Directed by James Lapine
Walter Kerr Theatre
Through Jan. 8
A Musical That Was Way Ahead of Its Time
By Lauren Yarger
A musical about a gay guy trying to find his place in the world. The initial reaction might be, "ho hum," because how many times do we need to see this story retold on a New York stage?
If the musical is the revival of William Finn and James Lapine's Falsettos, getting a run backed by Lincoln Center, the answer is, "One more time."
Lapine returns to helm the production starring Chrisian Borle, Stephanie Block and Andrew Rannells and it really inspires awe when we realize just how far ahead of its time this musical was when it premiered on Broadway in 1992 (it was the combination of shorter Off-Broadway pieces that appeared in 1981 and 1990). That was a long time ago when it came to things like understanding AIDS or accepting gay couples as part of the family. This was an age when people still were afraid they could catch the disease through casual contact and when men coming out about their sexuality were cut off from contact with families.
This musical, which focuses on Marvin (Borle), who leaves his wife, Trina (Block) and son, Jason (Anthony Rosenthal) for lover Whizzer (Rannells), takes a different tact. Trina and Marvin remain friends and even when Marvin and Whizzer break up, Whizzer remains a part of the family because Jason loves him. Trina's new husband, Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz who excels as the caring husband), who met her when he was serving as Marvin's therapist, often is the one making sure all the chaos works out so that every body is happy in "Falsettoland."
The family's ties are made even stronger when one of the members succumbs to AIDS -- again, an astounding plot twist for the 1990s. The musical makes an unintended statement about what attitudes should have been back then, in what they seem to be today.
Finn's music ranges from fun to moving (there were a lot of tears shed at the end of act one) and the lyrics are touching:
Whizzer: Lets get on with living while we can
And not play dumb. Death's gonna come
Trina: I'm on the brink of breaking down.
I'm breaking down.Down. Down.I only want to love a man who can love meOr like meOr help me.
Marvin: Kid, be my son.
What I've done to you is rotten.
Say I was scared.
I kept marching in one place,
Marching in time
To a tune I'd forgotten.
I loved you, I love you.
I meant no disgrace.
This here is love,
When we're talking
Face to face.
The characters are all flawed, but honest. And in the end, love wins. The strong performances are lovingly directed by Lapine (who wrote the book with Finn), though casting Borle (Peter and the Starcatcher, Something Rotten) and Rannells (Book of Mormon) in non-comedic roles is a bit of a stretch for our imagination. (Sorry, their great comedic roles which have helped define their talent on stage kept slipping into my mind and I found myself wanting to laugh at rather sad parts of the show).
Block (in fine voice) excited with her number, "I'm Breaking Down," a frenzied, emotional mirror of a woman struggling to hold on when her world has been turned upside down. Uranowitz offers a comedic, gentle balance. Tracie Thoms and Betsy Wolfe round out the cast as lesbians Dr. Charlotte and Cordelia who extend the family dynamic.
Choreography by Spence Liff augments without taking over the action set on an ingenious minimal set designed by David Rockwell that uses a number of cushioned shapes to create various settings in front of a color-changing New York skyline cut into the backdrop.
Falsettos runs at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th St., NYC through Jan. 8. Performances are Tuesday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $42 to $155: lct.org/shows/falsettos.
Costumes by Jennifer Caprio, lighting by Jeff Croiter, sound by Dan Moses Schreier; musical direction by Vadim Feichtner, conducting Michael Starobin’s original orchestrations.
-- Homosexual activity
-- God's name taken in vain