Reviewed by Will Stackman
With the recent Broadway success of William Finn's "...Spelling Bee", his place is probably insured in the pantheon of American Musical Theatre. Finn's earlier success with "Falsettos" in 1992--2 Tony awards, etc.--led to various interesting projects, but didn't put him back in the limelight. This current revival of "Falsettos", his collaboration with James Lapine is a full length evening created from four related one act music dramas. The show chronicles a quirky Everyman Jewish homosexual husband, father, partner, and career neurotic at the end of the '70s into the early '80s. It provides glimpses of the facility of Finn's music and lyrics while revealing the pitfalls of his sense of storyline. The piece is more a songcycle, with each sung-through scene almost self sufficient, as in "Elegies" created in response to 9/11/02. As an evening in the theatre, however, "Falsettos" is outstanding most of the time. As music drama, its characters barely get beyond their stereotypes and their situations border on the bathetic. When the believable becomes the predictable, and the character at the center of it all shows almost no development and only impending self-realization, a less accomplished auteur would be in real trouble.
The Huntington, with a few casting problems in the process, has assembled an experienced ensemble of Broadway regulars to give their all for this production. And they've found young Jacob Brandt nearby in Newton to fill the central role of Jason, around whom to that character's chagrin, the action revolves. The result, helmed by a team formed at Williamstown, director Daniel Goldstein, music director Michael Friedman, and designer, David Korins, is first class. If only the schmaltzy material were consistently worth the effort. The show contains relics of the earlier four pieces which should be left for the inevitable revue, one of which is unfortunately the opening number, "Four Jews in a Room Bitching."
Things do move along sprightly, as Marvin, played earnestly by Geoffrey Nauffts sets his goal of having it all, including "A Tight Knit Family". The situation is that he's just left his wife and son to move in with his athletic lover. One wonders how much sympathy an audience could develop if the plot involved the more conventional situation of a bored husband leaving his family for a younger woman. In this case, however, interest is kept up not by the somewhat pedestrian affairs of Whizzer and Marvin, but by Trina, the stalwart wife and mother. Linda Mugleston in the role manages to bring down the house in the middle of the first act and with the help of Steve Routman as Mendel, her husband's psychiatrist who falls for her, salvages the story. Finn obviously wants to focus on the difficult relationship between father and son, but the Jewish mother almost wins out. The somewhat shiftless lover, obviously used to being kept and still going by his college knickname, is played nonchalantly by Romain Frugé. Like other Lapine efforts, the first act reaches an acceptable climax, though no clear resolution is in sight, except that Mendel will marry newly-divorced Trina while Marvin and Whizzer don't have a future.
Act Two aka "Falsettoland" is more programatic and less interesting. The action centers around Jason's impending bar mitzvah, and suffers from the "Bagel Factor" recently parodied in one of the final skits at the Boston Theatre Marathon. There, in Dana Yeaton's wry jape, it was posited that no play can succeed in New York unless the main characters can believably consume bagels. Here the special circumstances of Jewish observance are compounded by the authors attempt to examine love in a homosexual context, broadly rather than deeply. Moreover, the whole thing turns into a soap opera when Whizzer becomes deathly ill, presumably with AIDS. Since the time is 1982, HIV is just starting to make itself known. And just to make things throughly liberal, when Marvin and Whizzer move back in together, their neighbors are a Lesbian doctor and her Kosher caterer partner, a butch and fem pair. These two are played with charm by Anne L. Nathan and Kate Baldwin . But the cast soldiers on, with Jason confronting "The Miracles of Judaism" and coming up with a heart-warming--this is a musical--solution to the situation even though his fate is no clearer by the end than it was an hour before at intermission.
For a variety of reasons, starting with a small cast, this show is liable to keep coming back. One wishes that Finn would take another crack at the project which began 1978 and at least send Jason off to college, while dropping some excess baggage, such as "The March of the Falsettos." As usual, Huntington's technical support makes this production outstanding, with Korin's variable portals providing continual interest as the cast merrily shuffles the furniture which defines their lives. Lighting by Donald Holder maintains the focus, Miguel Angel Huidor's costumes have a timeless urban feel, while choreography by Sean Curran suggests characters dancing with abandon rather than skill There are memorable moments, but the show is somewhat in limbo between contemporary and timeless. Lots of questions about family relations and love are asked; almost none are answered.