Broadway tour ‘Falsettos’ offers refreshing depiction of domestic drama
By Jack Gardner
“Falsettos” opened in Chicago at the James M. Nederlander Theatre — formerly the Oriental Theatre — helping kick-off LGBT Pride Month and Broadway in Chicago’s 2019 summer season. Fresh from its Broadway revival, which was nominated for five 2017 Tony Awards, “Falsettos” offers a sober depiction of life, both refreshing and emotionally draining.
The musical, which continues through June 9, begins its story in 1979, following the efforts of Marvin — an ambitious and financially secure, yet intensely narcissistic gay man — who wants his new partner Whizzer and ex-wife Trina, as well as their pre-teen son Jason, to come together to form a singular family unit. The family’s psychiatrist, Mendel, is the strand that holds the family together, until he too gets embroiled in the stress, resentment and heartbreak.
“Falsettos” opened on Broadway in 1992 as a joint project between William Finn and James Lapine to combine the two one-act musicals “March of the Falsettos” (1981) and “Falsettoland” (1990), with the dual plots making-up the first and second acts respectively. Finn, also known for the music and lyrics of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” also created the story, music and lyrics for not only “Falsettos,” but also “March of the Falsettos,” “Falsettoland” and the predecessor “In Trousers” (1979).
Lapine has also collaborated with Stephen Sondheim to write the books for “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Into the Woods.” In addition to sharing the co-writing credit for “Falsettos,” Lapine also directed the 2016 Broadway revival as well as this current national tour that has found itself in Chicago after opening at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco earlier this year.
This show is not as easily digestible as most typical Broadway musicals.
None of the songs are bridged by dialogue, requiring your full attention throughout the entire 2 and a half hour run time. This creates the issue of many of the songs not being particularly melodic, which is compounded by the neurotic nature of the characters. The first act, in particular, dragged, despite being barely over an hour.
However, these songs do eventually ease into some very catchy tunes, especially in the second act, that will surely leave audiences not only humming along, but also laughing and even tearing up. Some of the best songs are the
ones that incorporate the plot and theme into an entertaining and unexpected setting.
“I’m Breaking Down” sees Trina reach her emotional limit while preparing dinner in the kitchen, while “The Baseball Game” sees the cast take out their own stress and discontent on Jason’s little league baseball game lamenting with the lyrics, “We’re watching Jewish boys / Who cannot play baseball, play baseball.”
Nick Blaemire, who portrays Mendel, is a stage favorite, as his energy and levity elevate his performance to more than just his role identity as a straight-laced psychiatrist and exceeds mere comedic relief. Eden Espinosa as Trina is another stand-out performance, as her voice and demeanor are able to satisfy all of the desperate lows and dopamine-inducing highs that the emotions of her performance demand.
Additionally, Max von Essen as Marvin delivers a multi-dimensional performance that drives the plot that the characters are tangled in, while Thatcher Jacobs as Jason (appearing on opening, as the role is double cast with Jonah Mussolino) appears as an exceptional young actor who delivers the right amount of sass and “boy genius” swagger. Nick Adams as Whizzer balances vain and conceited characteristics with compassion and warm-heartedness, making him a companion to both father and son. The entire cast creates believable chemistry, as the show requires so much singing and nonstop action, all of which they are able to pull it off beautifully.
The set, designed by David Rockwell, consists of a lone cube that can be pulled apart like a 3D puzzle and rearranged to form everything from furniture to the frame of a house. These pieces can be easily toppled by the infuriated characters, but will also stay connected when required to, thanks to (cleverly concealed) magnets attached to their sides. In the background, a live band of musicians is perched within a towering lit window cityscape of NYC skyscrapers. This set gives interesting stage business to the characters, most of whom rarely leave the spotlight. However, their presence is never dull nor distracting, thanks to the work of choreographer Spencer Liff and director James Lapine, who allow the actors to be erratic and energized or composed and subdued when appropriate.
“Falsettos” presents an extremely relevant concept that still resonates with audiences today, just as much as it did back when “In Trousers” opened in 1979.
As long as you are in the mood to be attentive and enjoy a poignant subject matter, this musical is definitely one worth seeing before it moves on the next city in its tour.
FYI: Tickets are $27-$98 at www.falsettosbroadway.com or broadwayinchicago.com or 800-775-2000.