Falsettos: An Adult Musical Look at Marvin and his Family
Also see Bob's review of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
First, there were three individually written and produced "Marvin" musicals. The first was entitled In Trousers (1979). In non-linear fashion, In Trousers examined the thoughts and actions of Marvin as he reluctantly came to the conclusion that it would be best for him to leave his wife and child for his gay lover, the buff, younger Whizzer. The only characters to appear are Marvin, his wife, and two females remembered from high school (a girlfriend and the English teacher for whom he lusted).
Then came the second and third "Marvin" musicals, March of the Falsettos (1981) and Falsettoland (1990). In 1992, these two one-act musicals were produced together on Broadway, as they are now at George Street, under the overall title Falsettos.
March of the Falsettos, which is set in 1979, depicts Marvin's deteriorating relationship with Whizzer. Marvin works hard to create an inclusive family with Whizzer, son Jason and ex-wife Trina. Trina seeks treatment from Marvin's psychiatrist Mendel. Trina and Mendel fall in love and marry. Marvin, a rich and successful breadwinner, grows dissatisfied with "trophy wife" Whizzer's inattention to his household duties and his intellectual shortcomings. The hedonistic Whizzer chafes under Marvin's criticisms. Their relationship falls apart. Jason has difficulty coping with having a gay father. Marvin is in danger of losing all those whom he so desperately wants to hold close to him. However, Marvin ultimately convinces his son Jason that everyone should march to his own tune, and salvages their relationship.
Falsettoland is set two years later in 1981. Marvin and Whizzer reconcile. Jason is preparing for his bar mitzvah, and we meet Marvin's simpatico neighbors: Dr. Charlotte and her domestic partner, caterer Cordelia. The mood darkens as AIDS consciousness intrudes, and Whizzer discovers that he has contacted the virus. It is 1981 and a "happy ending" is not possible. Still, a strongly affirmative note is conveyed by the ability of this oddly conglomerated family of maladjusted Jewish neurotics to cohere despite their considerable individual imperfections. Caring for one another and acceptance of differences are the key to this family's survival.
Whereas William Finn originally wrote and directed In Trousers himself, the estimable James Lapine came on board as director for March of the Falsettos and director/co-author for Falsettoland. Lapine is considered to have lent Finn's narrative coherence and structure. However, these musicals are clearly the deeply felt, personal explorations of William Finn. His music has a manic, breathless, jaunty, dare I say, neurotic quality which is always engaging, but tends to hide a largesse of melodic beauty. It is a score which will grows on one with re-hearing. Similarly, Finn has produced such a quick and dense outpouring of witty and insightful lyrics that one is likely to initially enjoy them for their storytelling without catching the full force of their brilliance. It took this writer any number of hearings to fully appreciate these Finn scores. Close attention will be well rewarded.
Michael Winther is a convincing, sympathetic Marvin. He manages to retain our sympathy despite Marvin's considerable warts. Liz Larsen is a moving, vocally powerful Trina. She conveys the sadness and fear of a woman who has prepared herself to fulfill all the duties of a traditional wife, but now finds that the ground shifting under her in a world where men seem to have all the options. Mark Nelson as Mendel (who I'm told has never before performed in a musical) conveys a loud New York accented bonhomie which is enormously engaging, even if he might better be the patient than the psychiatrist. Colin Hanlon doesn't soften Whizzer's vacuity, relying on Whizzer's good instincts toward Jason to redeem him. Thirteen-year-old Malcolm Morano is simply super as Jason. His lyric interpretations are excellent as he creates a totally believable, wittily skeptical, troubled young Jewish adolescent. Anne L. Nathan is a fine Dr. Charlotte. Sarah Litzsinger as Cordelia sounded shrill on opening night. Whether she needs to hold back or was the victim of over amplification, this problem should be easily correctable.
David Saint has directed sure-handedly, eliciting solid performances from his ensemble. His only misstep is to project an AIDS ribbon on the background as the evening comes to a close. While the impulse to include it is readily understandable, its inclusion unnecessarily conveys the feeling that we have been watching a public service message rather than an organic work of art.
The principal element of the set design by Beowulf Boritt consists of two rows of shifting three-sided panels featuring the art of Keith Haring. Haring died in 1990 from AIDS related causes.
This is a quality adult musical which should not be missed. To conclude in the words of William Finn:
Falsettos continues performances (Eves: Tues.-Sat. 8 p.m./ Sun. 7 p.m. except 5/6; Mats: Thurs Sat. & Sun. 2 p.m. except 4/21, 4/26) through May 6, 2007 at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. Box Office: 732-246-7717; on-line: www.GSPonline.org.
Falsettos Music and Lyrics by William Finn; Book by William Finn and James Lapine; directed by David Saint