“Falsettos” sings heartfelt songs across movie theaters

Anthony Rosenthal with the cast of Falsettos.

Josh Rittberg

Staff Writer

Falsettos first opened on Broadway in 1992 where it was met with great acclaim for its intricate score by William Finn and it’s touching story of life and family.  Now, Falsettos is back in a brand new production that is ready to capture the hearts of a whole new generation.  This revival will be shown on PBS this October, but for now Falsettos is being broadcast in movie theatres where it can be seen by a wider audience.  

Falsettos is centered around the character of Marvin (Christian Borle).  The musical begins in 1979; Marvin has just left his wife Trina (Stephanie J. Block) and his son Jason (Anthony Rosenthal) for a man named Whizzer (Andrew Rannells).  Also involved is Marvin’s neurotic psychiatrist, Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz), who finds himself falling for Block’s character, Trina.  The first act mainly concerns the various character’s responses to Marvin’s affair with Whizzer.

The second act of Falsettos takes place in 1981 and revolves around the Bar Mitzvah of Trina and Marvin’s son, Jason.  The second half also introduces the characters Charlotte (Tracie Thoms) and Cordelia (Betsy Wolfe).  Charlotte and Cordelia live next door to Marvin and quickly become honorary members of Marvin’s family.  When Whizzer catches a mysterious illness, the whole family has to resolve their differences and come together.

Christian Borle is a revelation as Marvin.  Although mainly known for comedic roles, with Falsettos, Borle gets to show a new side of himself to audiences.  During the first act, the character of Marvin is incredibly selfish and arrogant.  He wants to start a new life with Whizzer, but is frustrated that no one in his family accepts his new affair.  In the first half, Marvin is constantly taking his anger out on Trina and at many times his own lover, Whizzer.

 Borle is not afraid to exaggerate the flaws in his character.  This makes Marvin’s personal growth in act two even more satisfying.  As Whizzer gets sick, Marvin realizes that he has been absolutely terrible to everyone.  He intends to become a better person in his last days with Whizzer.  Borle displays heartbreaking vulnerability in the numbers, “Father to Son” and “What More Can I Say” as Marvin opens up to his family.  He shares excellent chemistry with the entire cast, and gives an unforgettable performance.

Andrew Rannells also gets to show off his dramatic chops as Whizzer. In act one, Whizzer is very much out of love with Marvin.  As explored in the number “The Thrill of First Love”, Whizzer and Marvin explain that although their passion has died, they still find great attraction in their fights with each other.  Rannells displays the playful and tender sides of his character with ease, and is a strong counterpart to Borle’s Marvin.  As Marvin grows more bitter, the character of Whizzer falls further and further away from Marvin.  

Nevertheless, Whizzer loves Marvin’s son, Jason, and is unsure of what do.  Rannells conveys Whizzer’s complicated arc expertly and really gets inside his character in the number “The Games I Play.”  As Whizzer gets sick in act two, Rannells’ portrayal of Whizzer deepens even more.  Whizzer is no longer the pretty boy that he once was.  He is now in great suffering and at the end of the line.  Rannells’ performance of this realization in the song “You Gotta Die Sometime” is utterly heartbreaking in the best possible way.  His portrayal of Whizzer is incredibly well developed and a highlight of this production.

Stephanie J. Block brings much heart to the character of Marvin’s wife, Trina.  Trina has quite the journey as she deals with Marvin’s affair.  She starts out the musical bitter and unsure of how to deal with her ex’s feelings for Whizzer.  Block is in fine voice throughout the evening.  She displays Trina’s disapproval of Marvin’s affair and struggle in keeping her family together to humorous effect in the show-stopping number “I’m Breaking Down.”  As Trina finds herself falling for Brandon Uranowitz’s Mendel, Block effortlessly illustrates Trina’s shift into her acceptance of the situation that she is in.  Stephanie J. Block makes Trina’s journey one of the most satisfying of the evening.  

Brandon Uranowitz is delightfully nerdy as Mendel.  The character of Mendel, at many points, serves as the voice of the audience. Uranowitz crafts a character that is incredibly relatable and humorous.  His awkward mannerisms and quirky line deliveries had the audience in stitches throughout the evening.  He especially shines in the number “A Marriage Proposal” as Mendel attempts to woo Trina into marrying him.

Uranowitz also develops a thoughtful relationship with Anthony Rosenthal’s Jason.  Their song together “Everyone Hates His Parents” is performed with comedic flair by both performers.  Uranowitz’s enthusiasm for this character is felt through his portrayal of Mendel and is truly infectious.

Anthony Rosenthal gives a star-making performance as the young but wise Jason.  Although the youngest character on stage, Jason is the moral compass of these constantly flawed characters. Rosenthal drives this production with true professionalism.  He displays incredible chemistry with the whole cast and balances the comedic and dramatic natures of his role incredibly well.  Anthony Rosenthal is a bright light in this already strong production.

Betsy Wolfe and Tracie Thoms are an utter delight as the couple Cordelia and Charlotte.  Although they are affectionately referred to in the show as “the lesbians from next door,” both actresses make their parts more than just side characters.  Cordelia is a bumbling caterer whose failed attempts in Jewish cooking constantly drew laughs. Tracie Thoms is utterly heartbreaking and at times hilarious as a doctor who witnesses Whizzer deteriorating before her very eyes.  She expresses this struggle in the number “Something Bad is Happening.”  Wolfe and Thoms display fine chemistry with the cast in the numbers “Unlikely Lovers” and “Jason’s Bar Mitzvah.”  Although not introduced until the second act, both actresses make strong turns in their respective roles.

This new production of Falsettos is skillfully directed by Broadway veteran James Lapine, who co-wrote the show with Will Finn. His direction is never overwhelming.  Instead Lapine focuses on getting incredibly thoughtful and honest performances from the entire cast.  By the end of the show, this production did not feel like a “musical,” it felt like a look into the lives of real people.  This is in great part to Lapine’s incredibly strong hand in directing and casting.

William Finn’s score for Falsettos is incredibly simple and yet intricate.  His characters are flawed but often speak very rather matter of factly. This musical is almost entirely sung through and incredibly well paced.  James Lapine’s book keeps the proceedings moving at an efficient clip.  Finn’s score shifts from upbeat and comedic numbers like the jubilant “A Day in Falsettoland” and the rousing “The Baseball Game” to the incredibly tender and intimate numbers “What More Can I Say” and “Holding To The Ground.”  Even with the shifts in tone, the score for Falsettos feels cohesive throughout.  Finn’s score and Lapine’s book work incredibly well together and are a true gem to behold.

David Rockwell’s sparse set design is made up of a giant block that becomes various locations and simple backdrops. Rockwell’s set allows the musical to flow fluidly while at the same time representing the constantly changing world of these characters.  Jeff Croiter’s lighting serves as an extension of Rockwell’s set.  Jennifer Caprio creates detailed costumes that add to the organic quality of these characters.  While not a dance show by any means, Spencer Liff’s humorous choreography for numbers like the hysterical opening number “Four Jews in a Room Bitching” brings great flair to the production.

Last, but certainly not least, special mention must be given to Lincoln Center Theatre and Screen Vision Media for bringing this important production to a wider audience through film.  This production is exceptionally filmed to a point where the audience feels like they are actually in the theatre watching the show.  Falsettos plays in movie theatres through September 10th, and will be broadcasted on PBS this October.  Do not miss this production of Falsettos. Led by an incredible cast, this musical’s thoughtful messages of time and family are more important than ever.

 

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