Falsettos

Theater
4 out of 5 stars
Falsettos
Photograph: Joan Marcus

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

 

Theater review by Alex Huntsberger

The words and notes come fast in William Finn and James Lapine’s Falsettos, but they stay subtle and light. Even the show’s moments of great emotional heft—and there are many of them—land with airy grace. Originally written as a pair of one-acts, March of the Falsettos (1981) and Falsettoland (1990), this 1992 musical chronicles the messy, masochistic relationships that spring up around the neurotic Marvin, who has left his wife and son for another man. A touring version of its sterling 2016 Broadway revival, directed by Lapine, is now at the James M. Nederlander Theatre; for the show’s many fans, this production offers a chance to see it done right.

The first act, set in 1979, finds Marvin (Max Von Essen) trying to navigate tricky relationships with his equally anxious ex-wife, Trina (Eden Espinosa), their son, Jason (Thatcher Jacobs alternating with Jonah Mussilino), and Marvin’s charmingly vain lover, Whizzer (Nick Adams). The situation is complicated further when Trina marries their therapist, Mendel (Nick Blaemire). In the second half, set in 1981, Jason’s impending bar mitzvah consumes his parents while the specter of AIDS creeps into the foreground. By this time, Marvin’s family circle has expanded to include the lesbian couple next door, Dr. Charlotte (Bryonha Marie Parham) and Cordelia (Audrey Cardwell).

While portrayals of post-nuclear families have become more common since Falsettos’s premiere, Finn and Lapine’s portrait doesn’t seem dated. Finn, who later wrote the wonderful  The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, was working at the height of his powers in this show, especially in Falsettoland: The characters earn their payoffs of generosity by wading through miles of psychological muck. (Even the comedy numbers, like Trina’s volcanic showstopper “I’m Breaking Down,” ground their laughs in genuine pain.) Staged on a set that resembles a massive set of children’s blocks, this Falsettos is a wrenching, hilarious and sublime exercise in watching grown people act like children. Its complex understanding of immaturity is one reason why the show has aged so well.

James M. Nederlander Theatre. Music and lyrics by William Finn. Book by Finn and James Lapine. Directed by Lapine. With Max Von Essen, Eden Espinosa, Nick Adams, Nick Blaemire. Running time: 2hrs 40mins. One intermission.

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