Falsettos Soars High on Broadway in its First Revival

Falsettos Soars High on Broadway in its First Revival

From left, Anthony Rosenthal and Christian Borle as Jason and Marvin in "Falsettos" (©Joan Marcus)

“Falsettos”—with a book by James Lapine (who also directs) and William Finn (who wrote the musical and lyrics)—tells the story of Marvin, his ex-wife Trina, his son Jason, his psychiatrist Mendel and his gay lover Whizzer. The first act, “March of the Falsettos,” is set in 1979 while the second act, “Falsettoland,” takes place two years later.

I was not familiar with “Falsettos” before I saw it and was grateful that this Lincoln Center Theater revival was my first experience hearing the songs and watching the plot unfold. I bought my ticket based on familiar names in the cast and crew and walked away from this show feeling blessed that this was my introduction to one of the most heartwarming and heartbreaking musicals out there. I loved that this is a show about people you could have known in the late 1970s/early 1980s—there’s no dancing animals, huge set pieces or dancing chorus members (all things I do love in other musicals, for the record). In “Falsettos,” a broken Jewish family is dealing with the aftermath of a divorce, planning a Bar Mitzvah and what happens when split-up parents get involved with other people and everyone is still involved in everyone else’s lives. A family isn’t necessarily two parents and a kid because sometimes your therapist and lesbian neighbors weave their way into the mix as well.

Two-time Tony Award winner Christian Borle (Marvin) and Tony-nominee Andrew Rannells (Whizzer) are electric together and their onstage chemistry is thrillingly palpable. These talented men excel in their solo moments as well, grounding Marvin and Whizzer as ordinary guys navigating life-changing circumstances with realistic vulnerability. I laughed loudly and blinked back tears because of their strong performances.

I have seen Stephanie J. Block onstage before and am positive she is a fantastic Trina. Block was out with sinusitis during the performance I attended, and her understudy was out as well, so I had the distinct privilege of watching Stephanie Umoh nail the role after just one on-stage rehearsal that very morning. (I went to the matinee on Saturday, October 15.) The audience was informed before the show that Umoh would be carrying pages with her lyrics on them while on stage, but that did not take away from her masterful interpretation of this complex role. I was beyond impressed at Umoh’s professionalism and vocals—Trina has some huge solos and Umoh slayed them all.

Brandon Uranowitz (Mendel) was also out, so I saw his understudy, Tally Sessions, who was brilliant in the role. Like Block, I have seen Uranowitz on stage in another production and I’m sure he’s equally amazing as Mendel. But, if you happen to attend a performance where Uranowitz is out and Sessions is on, you’re still in for a treat. Rounding out the cast is Anthony Rosenthal as Jason, Tracie Thoms as Dr. Charlotte and Betsy Wolfe as Cordelia.

Though there are other shows about dysfunctional families, this production of “Falsettos” shines because of the diverse selection of songs, the strength of its ensemble and ingenious production design (you’ll be amazed at what the giant gray cube on stage at the beginning of the show can become). I was engaged from note one with Whizzer, Marvin, Jason and Mendel singing “Four Jews in a Room Bitching” and loved every second of the roller coater of emotions this show brought me. When Marvin and Whizzer sang the final song, “What Would I Do?” I wanted to stay in my seat and ride this ride again and again.

“Falsettos” is presently in previews at the Walter Kerr Theatre on West 48th Street. It officially opens on October 27 and runs through January 8, 2017.

The cast of "Falsettos" (©Joan Marcus)

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