Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Also see Mitchell's review of The Revolutionists
Marvin (Max von Essen) has ended his marriage after falling for a younger man, and is struggling to maintain a close-knit relationship with ex-wife Trina (Eden Espinosa) and their less than enthusiastic 12-year-old son Jason (Thatcher Jacobs). Marvin's new beau, the dashing Whizzer (Nick Adams), becomes a regular fixture around their awkward dinner table, as does Marvin's shrink Mendel (Nick Blaemire), who falls in love with and eventually marries Trina. Tension and resentment unsurprisingly abound.
Act two adds Cordelia and Dr. Charlotte to the mix (the "lesbians next door," played by Audrey Cardwell and Bryonha Marie Parham, respectively), and an unlikely family is formed. Relationships ebb and flow as all attempt to find their groove as lovers, friends and parents. But life is difficult and love is complicated, and things rarely go according to plan. It's a mostly uplifting journey full of touching moments, self-discovery, and hearty laughs, capped off by a tragic twist of fate that crushes all hope for a fairy-tale ending.
This rather lengthy two-act show is the composite of two standalone musicals, "March of the Falsettos" and "Falsettoland," both penned by William Finn (music, lyrics, book) and James Lapine (book), which premiered independently before pairing up as Falsettos for a successful 1990s Broadway run and subsequent 2016 revival. Under Lapine's direction, the revival has now embarked on its first national tour, making SHN's Golden Gate Theatre its home through April 14th.
It's a technically polished production, thanks in large part to Jeff Croiter's near-flawless lighting. David Rockwell's set features a beautifully illuminated city skyline but is otherwise underwhelming. Though set changes are seamless and undeniably creative, a lot of time is spent moving large grey blocks around the stage with little else to look at.
Adams's Whizzer is handsome, charming and relatable. Adams is an excellent vocalist, too, and is joined on stage by a number of powerful voices. Parham's is simply phenomenal. It's a shame we don't get to hear more of it. She adds a lot to the ensemble pieces, and she and Cardwell are great together in both chemistry and song.
Blaemire is a good fit for the affable, neurotic psychiatrist who wins Trina's heart. His Mendel is extremely likeable, injecting warmth and humor into awkward scenes and busting some impressive moves in "Everyone Hates His Parents." He earned big laughs at the performance I attended when he spat out the word "homosexuals," shining a pair of flashlights accusatorily at the audience.
Thatcher Jacobs (he alternates with Jonah Mussolino) as twelve-year-old Jason, often outshines the adults with his nearly pitch-perfect performance. Espinosa does well as the ever-worried mother, though her otherwise lovely singing is marred by uncomfortably off-key moments. She wins points for an uproarious scene at the kitchen chopping block, taking liberties with vegetables in the cleverly choreographed "I'm Breaking Down."
Von Essex is both the show's anchor and, regrettably, its weakest link. He struggles to make Marvin a sympathetic character, his performance often stiff and apathetic. The chemistry with other charactersparticularly, and perhaps most lamentably, Whizzerfeels strained and artificial. He's a capable vocalist and a technically proficient actor, but a lack of believable feeling hurts the story's impact.
At nearly three hours and almost entirely sung-through, Falsettos is a challenging piece of theater. The first act is a bit of a grind, but the pace picks up in act two with the introduction of new characters and entertaining numbers like "The Baseball Game" and "A Day in Falsettoland."
Falsettos is a story about ordinary people living uncommon lives, about learning to accept that family doesn't always look the way we think it should, and about the importance of embracing who we are and who we loveas best we can and for however long we're able. On the whole, it's a worthwhile experience, with a message as inspiring as it is important.
Falsettos, through April 14th, 2019, at SHN's Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco CA. Tickets range from $56 - $256, and are available by calling the box office at 888-746-1799 or by visiting SHNSF.com. For more information on the tour, visit falsettosbroadway.com.
Music and Lyrics by William Finn