Show/Venue: Falsettos at the Walter Kerr Theatre
Date: Wednesday, October 26th, 2016 @ 2pm
Starring: Christian Borle, Stephanie J. Block, Andrew Rannells, Tracie Thoms, Betsy Wolfe, Brandon Uranowitz, Anthony Rosenthal
Many of my friends would say that I’m a “Broadway Fanatic,” but even I had to admit that I didn’t know what the big deal was about Falsettos. Even my friend, Katie in Kansas City, knew about the show and was sad that she wouldn’t make it to NYC to see it. Mostly, I was eager to get another opportunity to see Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells, Tracie Thoms and Betsy Wolfe. It turns out the show is the combination of two Off-Broadway shows: Act One – March of the Falsettos and Act Two– Falsettoland from the 90’s.fo
Upon entering the theater, a large gray foam block is center stage; it looks to be made up of many various shapes, which will soon reveal themselves throughout the show. The story takes place in the late 70’s and early 80’s with the onset of the AIDS epidemic. The show started with the four main male characters singing “Four Jews in a Room Bitching,” waxing poetic about their lives and challenges. In the next scene, Marvin (Christian Borle, Something Rotten!, Peter and the Starcatcher, SMASH), comes forward to explain that he has left his wife, Trina, (Stephanie J. Block, Anything Goes, The Mystery of Edwin Drood) and son, Jason (Anthony Rosenthal, in his Broadway Debut) for his lover, Whizzer (Andrew Rannells, Hamilton, The Book of Mormon, Hedwig and the Angry Inch). Marvin explains that they are still “A Tight Knit Family,” despite him now having a boyfriend. How this family’s relationship is built and challenged will make up the bulk of the story for the show.
Trying to cope with this news, Trina goes to see a therapist, Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz, An American In Paris), who is also Marvin’s therapist. It’s here that the actors take apart the blocks on stage to create the therapy chair and couch. Mendel becomes infatuated with Trina at first sight and tries to control his feelings while listening to her talk about Marvin (“Love Is Blind”).
In the next scene, Marvin and Whizzer are debating what really lead them towards each other and the blocks become their new home and furniture. The guys don’t have much in common; they are almost opposites in every way, but they do love fighting and they are infatuated with each other (“Thrill of First Love”).
Bringing together the last two scenes, “Marvin at the Psychiatrist (A Three Part Mini-Opera)” begins. Mendel is speaking with Marvin asking him about his relationship with Trina, but really wanting to know more about Marvin’s ex-wife for his own pursuits. Marvin then tries to connect with Jason, since he wants to still be involved in his son’s life.
Back at their old home, Trina is trying to make dinner. In a brilliant number, showcasing her vocal and comedic timing, Stephanie J. Block brings down the house to “I’m Breaking Down” as she laments how Marvin has left her for another man. Trina circles the kitchen counter, tossing various ingredients, and almost laughing at her own situation, while trying to understand where her life could have gone wrong.
Following her breakdown, and in her next therapy session, Trina has a lapse in judgment and invites Mendel to her house for dinner (“Please, Come to Our House”). Over dinner, Mendel starts to analyze Jason and how he’s coping with his father’s new life. Over many more dinners, Mendel begins to fall for Trina even more, which leads to “A Marriage Proposal.” When Marvin hears the news, he is shocked, not only will he lose his ex-wife, but he’s also going to lose his therapist (“A Tight Knit Family [reprise]”). As Trina has a moment to think about her situation (“Trina’s Song”), the men enter wearing black outfits with neon black light accents and sing in their high registers, their falsettos, to match Jason’s pitch (“March of the Falsettos”).
Back at Marvin and Whizzer’s home, they play a game of chess (“The Chess Game”), which leads to a fight and the eventual break up of their relationship. In contrast to the end of their relationship, Mendel moves in with Trina and Jason (“Making a Home”).
Whizzer begins to pack up his things, in preparation for leaving Marvin, through which he realizes that he may not have ever really loved Marvin at all (“The Games I Play”). As their relationship ends, Marvin loses his cool (“Marvin Goes Crazy”) and confronts Trina about their life together, engaging in a fight and Marvin slaps her. Struck by his own actions, Marvin thinks about his past with Trina (“I Never Wanted to Love You”), which is then echoed by Trina, Whizzer and Mendel.
As Act One ends, Marvin tries to mend his relationship with Jason and show him that he will always be there for him.
During intermission, I was anxiously awaiting the appearance of Tracie & Betsy. Since the show was made up of two original pieces, their characters do not show up until Act Two. As Marvin comes back on stage to set the tone; we learn that it’s 1981 and the “tight knit family” has a new pair of lesbian neighbors: Dr. Charlotte (Tracie Thoms, RENT, Stick Fly) and Cordelia (Betsy Wolfe, Bullets Over Broadway, They Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Last Five Years), a caterer.
Marvin is trying to resolve his problems, although he still longs to have Whizzer back in his life. He has worked things out with Trina and they are planning for Jason’s quickly approaching Bar Mitzvah (“The Year of the Child”). The entire group gathers to watch Jason’s Little League game, but Jason can’t seem to concentrate on the ball or the game. Jason’s mind is too preoccupied with which girls he wants to or should invite to his Bar Mitzvah (“Miracle of Judaism”). Marvin, Trina, Charlotte and Cordelia lament being at the game (“The Baseball Game”) and how Jason can’t seem to hit the ball. Just then, Whizzer shows up, having been invited by Jason, throwing Marvin a curveball as he’s almost forgotten how handsome Whizzer is. Then Jason hits the ball and everyone rejoices, but Jason forgets to run the bases, so they all yell at him.
In “A Day in Falsettoland,” Mendel is at work, complaining about his yuppie patients, Trina is exercising to try and forget that Marvin and Whizzer are back together. At the neighbor’s house, Cordelia is cooking up something for Jason’s Bar Mitzvah, making Charlotte try the dish and she tries to choke it down. At the gym, Marvin and Whizzer play a game of racquetball, which Whizzer wins easily. Yes, they have issues, but overall, life is good for everyone.
As the date of Jason’s Bar Mitzvah approaches, Marvin and Trina argue about all the details. Jason can’t take his parents endless stream of disagreements and just wants to cancel the whole event. Sensing an opportunity to bond with Jason, Mendel steps in and tells him that “Everyone Hates His Parents” and that things will work out.
Back at their home, Marvin gazes at Whizzer while he’s sleeping and realizes that he really does love him. Their time apart taught him how much he needed him in his life (“What More Can I Say?”). Across town, Dr. Charlotte is telling Cordelia that something strange is happening in the city; young gay men are getting sick at an alarming rate and no one can figure out what is going on (“Something Bad is Happening”). In the next scene, Marvin and Whizzer are playing another game of racquetball and surprisingly, Marvin is winning; then Whizzer collapses.
Trina puts aside all her differences with Marvin and goes to visit Whizzer at the hospital. She’s shocked to see how frail he looks (“Holding to the Ground”), but she wants to be strong for Jason and Marvin. As the family and friend gather in the hospital room, they realize how thankful they are for moments like this (“Days Like This I Almost Believe in God”). Everyone is tip-toeing around the situation and how poor Whizzer looks, until Jason announces that Whizzer looks “awful!”
On the side, Marvin and Trina speak with Jason and tell him that he can call off his Bar Mitzvah (“Cancelling the Bar Mitzvah”) if he wants to. Jason finally realizes how sick Whizzer must be and that he might not ever get well. After Trina, Mendel and Jason leave, the remaining couples think about their lives (“Unlikely Lovers”).
Jason begins to ask God for another miracle to help Whizzer get well (“Another Miracle of Judaism”). As Whizzer contemplates his own mortality he comes to terms with his sickness (“You Gotta Die Sometime”). Just as he finishes his lament, everyone bursts into his hospital room; Jason has decided to have his Bar Mitzvah ceremony in Whizzer’s hopsital room (“Jason’s Bar Mitzvah”)!
After the ceremony, Whizzer becomes overwhelmed and is taken from the room. Only Marvin is left and he thinks about what his life would have been like without Whizzer in it (“What Would I Do?”). Whizzer reappears in his costume from the beginning of the show and the audience realizes that he has passed away. The family gathers on the stage one more time as Mendel thanks everyone for joining them in “Falsettoland.”
This show touched me more than I thought it would. Something about the chemistry between this small cast; especially that of Christian Borle and Andrew Rannells tugged at my heart strings. Some of the songs were a little odd, but all together the show was fascinating. I was lucky enough to see the show the day before Opening Night and got my Playbill signed by Tracie, Stephanie and Brandon.
I also walked away thinking about the costuming, which was brilliant! The wink to cheesy 80’s workout gear (Trina and Mendel have wonderful neon leotards and track suits) and the perfect fit of Whizzer’s tight pants. I also loved watching the actors transform the blocks on stage to the various settings: the family’s home, the hospital, Mendel’s office, etc. At one point, they even make various doorways and rooftops for the actors to walk through and a living room set with a fake television set.
I’m very glad I got the chance to see this show and that PBS has filmed it in part with Lincoln Center Theatre for a later airing. Although the story does not seem that unique today, I read that when it first premiered in the 90’s, there was a bit of controversy addressing the gay couple and the AIDS crisis. Luckily, shows like RENT have helped open the door for more productions that can address all different story lines.
Four Jews in a Room Bitching
A Tight Knit Family
Love Is Blind
Thrill of First Love
Marvin at the Psychiatrist (A Three Part Mini-Opera)
Everyone Tells Jason to See A Psychiatrist
This Had Better Come to a Stop
I’m Breaking Down
Please, Come to Our House
A Marriage Proposal
A Tight Knit Family (Reprise)
March of the Falsettos
Trina’s Song (Reprise)
The Chess Game
Making a Home
The Games I Play
Marvin Goes Crazy
I Never Wanted to Love You
Father to Son
Welcome to Falsettoland
The Year of the Child
Miracle of Judaism
The Baseball Game
A Day in Falsettoland
Everyone Hates His Parents
What More Can I Say?
Something Bad Is Happening
Holding to the Ground
Days Like This I Almost Believe in God
Cancelling the Bar Mitzvah
Another Miracle of Judaism
You Gotta Die Sometime
Jason’s Bar Mitzvah
What Would I Do?