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Cincinnati by Scott Cain


Falsettos

Also see Scott's recent review of Lucky Stiff

It may come as a surprise to many readers that a modern musical with homosexual characters at the forefront would be produced by three colleges within fifty miles of each other, especially considering that the universities are in the conservative Midwest. Wright State University follows previous mountings at the University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University with a fine production of the splendid Broadway musical Falsettos.

Falsettos, however, is a piece that deserves to be produced, as it not only tackles modern issues such as AIDS, but also because it brilliantly captures real people in difficult real-life situations. Falsettos takes place in the early 1980s and follows Marvin, who has left his wife Trina and son Jason, for a male lover, Whizzer. Trina then falls for Marvin's psychiatrist, Mendel. Marvin's lesbian neighbors, Cordelia and Dr. Charlotte, join in the action in Act 2. Whizzer and Marvin break up and then are reunited, only to find that Whizzer is dying of some new unexplained disease. It sounds simple enough, but the characters are quirky, complicated people, and exploring their reactions to the obstacles thrown their way makes for compelling theatergoing. The musical won Tony Awards in 1992 for Best Score and Best Book. Falsettos is actually the combination of two one-act Off-Broadway musicals, March of the Falsettos, which debuted in 1981, and Falsettoland, first produced in 1990.

The book for the musical is by William Finn and James Lapine, and it boasts well-constructed scenes conveying both humorous and tender heart-wrenching moments in the relationships of these interesting characters. Falsettos is about experiencing life (and love and death). It shows how a family that has extended to include people that one might never have expected to care about can at least deal with, if not overcome, some of life's biggest challenges. The show is sung-through. Finn's scores all bear his unique style, and Falsettos is his masterpiece. His music ranges from beautiful ballads to quick-paced manic group numbers. His tunes often go in unexpected directions, and border the line between accessible and avant-garde. Mr. Finn's lyrics are smart and concise and natural. It is not surprising that he is often compared to Stephen Sondheim, though Finn's body of work is smaller and less impressive. He has often been praised for his ability to create, both musically and with his words, very realistic and stylistic sung dialogue. This is clearly evident in Falsettos.

The production at Wright State University has two large assets working in its favor. Director Greg Hellems understands the piece and has made sound decisions throughout, much to the benefit of the show. In addition, this Falsettos boasts a strong cast. Though not possessing top-notch voices, each performer is a capable singer and does well with this challenging score. Where they really shine, however, is as actors, bringing depth and realism to their roles to great effect. David Brouillard (Marvin) and Kevin Bogart (Whizzer) are appropriately immature and selfish as the lovers, yet also make us feel for them. As Trina and Mendel, Emily Elsener and Bradford Lund capture the insecurity of their characters convincingly. Young Alex Boner steals many scenes as Jason. His slight build and size, perfect facial expressions, solid delivery, and keen understanding of the role should be the envy of many older thespians. Yashira Perez and Stephanie Richards do well in smaller roles as the lesbian friends. The set, lighting, and sound design were all simple, yet effective, as provided by students Joe Tanski, Doug Northeim, and Greg Bober. Joseph Bates served as Musical Director and provided piano accompaniment. As staged at the small Herbst Theatre, this intimate musical felt right at home.

Falsettos is about flawed people who are forced to grow up to meet the challenges that life throws at them. It is a well-written musical gem and Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio has done a very good job of bringing out the best in this piece. The show played from March 1 - 3, 2001. Their next production will be Kiss Me Kate, from May 10 - 27, 2001.

-- Scott Cain


Also see the current Cincinnati Area Theatre Schedule



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