Monday, November 21, 2016

Broadway Theater Review: Falsettos

Betsy Wolfe, Christian Borle, Anthony Rosenthal, Andrew Rannells, Tracie Thoms, Brandon Uranowitz and Stephanie J. Block. Photo: Joan Marcus

Falsettos
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.

Additional credits:
Costumes by Jennifer Caprio, lighting by Jeff Croiter, sound by Dan Moses Schreier; musical direction by Vadim Feichtner, conducting Michael Starobin’s original orchestrations.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Homosexuality
-- Homosexual activity
-- God's name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

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All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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