Monday, 24 October 2016

FALSETTOS by William Finn and James Lapine

     As I watched this superb revival of FALSETTOS yesterday afternoon, I realized that this show deserves to be considered a classic of American musical theater. Its detractors may say that it is dated, but that is because it is in the small group of musicals that speak directly to the time and place in which it was created. For us watching it in 2016, it is history, but history specifically and touchingly created through song. FALSETTOS (the joining of two one-act musicals, MARCH OF THE FALSETTOS and FALSETTOLAND, written a decade apart) chronicles two moments in the life of a gay man and his nuclear and intentional families. Marvin (Christian Borle), is an affluent, Jewish gay man who in the heyday of pre-AIDS gay liberation, has left Trina, his wife (Stephanie J. Block),  and Jason, his ten-year-old son (Anthony Rostenthal), to live in a turbulent relationship with a vain, beautiful younger man, Whizzer (Andrew Rannells). At the end of the first half, Marvin is without wife or lover and his trying to forge a solid relationship with his son. His wife has married Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz), who has been shrink to both Marvin and Trina. In part two, a few years later, everyone has grown up a bit. Marvin has become close to the lesbian couple next door, a Doctor Charlotte (Tracie Thoms) and Cordelia, a caterer (Betsy Wolfe). Just when Marvin and Whizzer get back together and forge a less turbulent and more loving relationship, AIDS hits in a way that affects everyone in this small group.
     FALSETTOS is about different forms of love. These seven people are brought together in various ways to form a larger, devoted family. Sometimes bonds are surprising. Much to the dismay of his mother, father and stepfather, young Jason turns to Whizzer for advice and assistance even after Marvin and Whizzer have broken up. Trina realizes that she must include Whizzer in her family.
     I don't know of a funnier or more deeply touching musical than FALSETTOS. Finn has written a witty score in the post-Sondheim vein. His ballads couldn't be more beautiful or touching and his lyrics are simply brilliant in their quirky way. Like COMPANY and RENT, it is also a moving tribute to a page of New York history and of the history of gay men and the people who stood by them in the crisis of the eighties and early nineties. As I said, it's a classic.
     I wondered at first why James Lapine was again directing this show (he directed its original Off-Broadway and Broadway versions). Wouldn't it have been wiser, twenty years later, to let someone else give his or her vision of the show? Nonetheless, this is a winning production with an ideal cast. I thought the 1996 Broadway production was too cute, schtick-filled and a bit defensive about its subject matter. This ensemble treats the show as a sung drama. There isn't a false moment. You couldn't find a better cast of Broadway's most talented performers. It's difficult to single anyone out. Stephanie J. Block keeps Trina real even in her more comic songs. One can't help but feel the chemistry between the immensely talented Borle and Andrew Rannells. Uranowitz never lets Mendel sink into cliche and Anthony Rosenthal makes you realize how central young Jason is to the plot. This is a dream cast who don't have a dishonest moment. FALSETTOS is through sung, but you always feel as if you are watching a drama unfold.
     FALSETTOS is having a limited run at the Walter Kerr. Get your ticket now. This is a very special event.

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