I think I have seen every incarnation of Falsettos starting with In Trousers to March of the Falsettos, Falsettoland and the first Broadway production back in 1992. I have lived this show, performed in this show and am still moved and touched by this devastatingly real story. Falsettos shines just as brightly in 2016. It takes the mark of a score that weaves it’s ways into your soul, a book that knows how to speaks with honesty and a director who allows the show to live on it’s own merits to do that. William Finn (music, lyrics and book) and James Lapine (book and director) have created a show that is very different and a lot that is the same.
Set in 1979, Falsettos follows Marvin (Christian Borle), who is trying to maintain a family with Trina (Stephanie J. Block) his ex-wife, their 10-year-old Jason (Anthony Rosenthal) who he left, to live as an openly gay man for his lover, Whizzer (Andrew Rannells). The four have tense family meals and life is one big trial. Marvin urges Trina to see his longtime psychiatrist, Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz), who falls for Trina almost instantaneously. Trina admits that “I’m Breaking Down” in the wonderfully comic tour de force moment by the fabulous Stephanie J. Block. Upset by his morbid and dissatisfied father Jason acts out. Marvin and Trina urge Jason to see Mendel, but he refuses until Whizzer tells him to go. Jason seeing how much Mendel loves his mother, tells Mendel to marry her. When Marvin finds out he is none to thrilled, partly because his relationship with Whizzer has failed. The relationship is never really healthy with the two liking rough sex, fighting to make-up and disagreeing for the sake of an argument, but that is what they both are into. As all of Marvin’s relationships are in tatter he realizes he can still make amends with Jason in “Father to Son.” He explains he will never be perfect, but he loves him, no matter what, and Act One ends.
I have to stop here, because the one thing that bothered me was the orchestration by Michael Starobin and the slowing down of the original tempo’s. Where Falsettos had a drive and a urgency, this version is sedate and sounds almost tinny. They have changed some of the keys and there is an odd speaking to the first line of the song. They improve for the most part in the second act. Allison Frazier contributed to the original orchestrations and her musicality is missing here. I found myself wanted that driving sound that makes what is coming more maddening. Ironically it is David Rockwell’s set that is a huge cube that breaks away into building blocks, that brings back that sense of fragility and sense of constantly having to readjust your life to the flow. There is even a shifting Manhattan skyline, brilliant.
Back to Act two and time has passed by two years. Trina and Mendel are married and along with Marvin are planning Jason’s Bar Mitzvah, which of course Jason does not want. Marvin wants his next-door lesbian neighbor Cordelia (Betsy Wolfe) to cater the affair. Her lover Dr. Charlotte (Tracie Thoms) is seeing a mysterious illness wipeout young men, “Something Bad Is Happening” (one of the weird key changes I was talking about.) At a baseball game for Jason, Marvin and Whizzer get back together but soon Whizzer comes down with the mysterious illness and ends up in the hospital. Marvin, Whizzer, Dr. Charlotte and Cordelia reminisces in “Unlikely Lovers,” as Jason decides his Bar Mitzvah will be held in the hospital to include Whizzer. In the end no matter how hard we try we lose family members in the end.
Mr. Borle is not as confused or neurotic as previous Marvin’s, but he brings so much to the table that his Marvin is a fully rounded out human being. We see his adoration and need for Whizzer, his guilt at hurting Trina, his feeling of betrayal, yet his gratefulness for Mendel and his love for his son, but mostly we see his heart. Mr. Rannells, is charming, good looking in a Colgate kind of way and sings well. Stephanie J Block brings the comedy bore put of heartache to this piece. Where Borel is the heart, Block is the grounding. As Mendel, Brandon Uranowitz is the surprise here. I was not a fan of his when he did American in Paris, but he has changed my mind. His character is nerdy neurotic, yet warmly funny and convincing. He is the best Mendel I have seen. Stealing the show is 12 year-old Anthony Rosenthal who brings so many dimensions to the confused and exasperatingly smart Jason. When he sings “another Miracle of Judaism,” you wish you could make his prayer come true.
Mr. Finn’s shows are mostly sung through so that the dialogue that is said is poignant. Finn speaks through his lyrics, which are crisp moments of real heart. Together with his melodies Finn’s score sticks to your soul like embedded thorns of wisdom. Lapine’s direction takes on a new dimension. Most of what was happening here was ground breaking back in 1979, when this whole cycle started. People were just starting to die and nobody knew why. What I couldn’t have known at the beginning, was my life would become a part of this story. 27 years later I am taken back to when I first discovered William Finn and Falsettos and my joy, love and appreciation has not changed.
If you want to be moved this is the show to see and discover.