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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
The plot's central character was a neurotically self-absorbed, conventionally married, neurotic gay man named Marvin and his evolving family (which accounts to its initially being known as the Marvin trilogy). With both the piecemeal and integrated version, William Finn, like Stephen Sondheim, proved that lyricism and the sung-through operatic musical could be as compatible as — well, a family in which "Father's a Homo", your mother falls in love with his Shrink, and the Lesbians next door become part of a loving and supportive clan.
And now s is back, this time at the Walter Kerr Theater, and if I had to sum it up in one word it would be "Hurrah!" Since there's so much that's praiseworthy about this revival, let me continue applauding via my trusty laptop.
With the disease that still had no name in 1981 now more treatable the Finn-James Lapine libretto could easily have become a period piece. However, it serves as timely reminder that AIDS has hardly disappeared even as the family dealing with the loss of one of its clan has moved into the mainstream of the family dramedy. The kind of family that evolves after Marvin leaves his traditional family is no longer a rarity. Divorced couples may not continue to share dinners as Marvin and Tina, Marvin's lover Whizzer, Jason do. Nor are they likely to have their shrink move in as son Jason's Stepdad. However, with both the reminder about AIDS continuing to cast its shadow and Falsetto's easier to identify with family situation the show has aged very well.
Welcome as ever as the libretto's blend of funny and sad is, the backbone of any musical is the music, and here's where Falsetto ranks right with the top musicals of our time. Finn's sung-through score is lyrical and sophisticated, full of intricate multiple harmonies. The lyrics are an organic blend of heart-tugging emotion and sophistication, and thanks to the small cast and orchestra achieve the clarity of conversations. Naturally, with close to forty songs there are bound to be favorites like "The Baseball Game" and "Everyone Hates His Parents." I could go on, but just take a look at the song list below and you'll find plenty of others to applaud.
Since this is a revival, the deal closer for an all thumbs up appraisal is the quality of the production. The answer: It couldn't be better! Whether you saw part or all of it before or not, this beautifully staged and performed revival is one of the most moving, eye and ear pleasing old-new musicals currently on Broadway.
James Lapine once again directs gracefully so that Falsettos feels fresh as ever, from the amusing "Four Jews In a Room Bitching" to the heart shattering hospital Bar Mtzvah and Marvin and Whizzer's "What Would I Do?" Much of this freshness can be attributed to the choreography, scenery, costumes, lighting and sound now being in the able hands of Spencer Lift, David Rockwell, Jennifer Caprio, Jeff Croiter and Dan Moses Shreiber.
I especially liked Rockwell's abstract set of cubes backed by a subtly lit Manhattan skyline. While I at first found all the moving about of those blocks by the cast a bit too busy and distracting, it quickly became clear that all this re-arranging to create the furnishings of a home echoed the frequent reconfigurations of this specific family dynamic — as well as our whole changing social fabric.
It takes spectacular performances to make us care deeply about the initially rather unsympathetic chief character in what's essentially a family soap opera. But Christian Borle manages to make Marvin both funny and deeply touching. He is terrifically effective in depicting Marvin's gradual emergence from identity changed, neurotic to more sympathetic and mature man and father. His rapprochment with his son is touchingly expressed in "Father and Son."
Of course Marvin isn't the only one undergoing growth and change. Andrew Rannelle's Whizzer charms and amuses as a sexually adventurous pretty boy. Ultimately, however, it's Whizzer who has us pulling out tissues s with his "You Gotta Die Sometime."
The three female roles are also finely acted and sung. Stephanie J. Block's Trina can't hold her marriage to Marvin together but she sure brings down the house with "Trina's Song." Also excellent are Betsy Wolfe and Tracie Thoms who arrive in the second act as Marvin's Lesbian neighbors Cordelia and Charlotte, the latter a doctor in a city hospital witnessing the scary outbreaks of AIDS.
Another terrific and important cast member is Brandon Uranowitz as Mendel the therapist with whom Trina becomes romantically involved (not exactly recommended therapeutic practice but hey, this is a musical not a class for budding mental health professionals). Last but by no means least is Tina and Marvin's son Jason. Except for child dominated shows like Matilda childen are generally secondary cast members, though notorious scene stealing. In Falsettos Jason is a major character and young Anthony Rosenthal makes an impressive debut as the boy who must learn to deal with two sets of parents as well as preparing for his bar mitzvah. His "My Father Is a Homo" with its lament of "my mother is no wife, my father is no man" is a well deserved show stopper.
While the first act is occasionally a bit too jokey, it does do the footwork for the heavy dose of tragedy to come. Finally, as this revival and everyone connected with it proves, you don't have to be Jewish or Gay, to appreciate the marvelous harmonies and lyrics to enjoy the humor and zip of The Baseball Game" or to catch yourself choking up and shedding tears while listening to some of the schmaltzier ballads." The song list below speaks for itself.
Falsettos Music by William Finn
Book and lyrics by William Finn and James Lapine
Directed by James Lapine
Cast: Andrew Rannells (Whizzer), Christian Borle (Marvin), Stephanie J. Block (Trina), Anthony Rosenthal (Jason), Betsy Wolfe (Cordelia), Tracie Thoms (Dr. Charlotte), Brandon Uranowitz (Mendel)
Choreography: Spencer Liff
Sets: David Rockwell
Costumes: Jennifer Caprio
Lighting: Jeff Croiter
Sound: Dan Moses Schreier
>Musical direction: Vadim Feichtner Stage Manager:Scott Taylor Rollison
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 40 min. with 1 intermission
Walter Kerr Theatre 219 W. 48th St 212-239-6200
. From 9/29/16; opened 10/27/16; closing 1/08/17
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer 11/09/16
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