Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, August, 2002
The evening of theatre presented under the title Falsettos is comprised of two chamber operas – March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland. The fictional action of the shows takes place in 1979 and 1981 respectively, but they were written in 1981 and 1990, and not combined into their current format until 1992 when they opened on Broadway. By the 1990’s the AIDS epidemic, which was just emerging when March of the Falsettos was first written and produced, was an international pandemic and the sexual freedom celebrated had taken on tragic overtones. The result is that Falsettoland is a much more somber show than March of the Falsettos. I went out at intermission thinking that I was seeing brilliant but dated look at life in the 1980’s, and emerged after the final curtain realizing that I had seen much more.
The production of Falsettos currently running at Barrington Stage is definitely their Main Stage hit of the season (alas, I haven’t been able to see either of their Stage II productions). Director Rob Ruggiero and stars Bradley Dean as Marvin and Sandy Binion as Trina were all key to the great success of BSC’s production of No Way to Treat a Lady in 2000, and they are fabulous here as well. Brandon and I attended the preview performance where the paint wasn’t even dry on the set and still the show lit up the stage.
The two shows that comprise Falsettos are the second and third installments of author/composer/lyricist William Finn’s Marvin Songs. (the earliest installment In Trousers is less frequently performed) Marvin is a mixed-up Jewish bisexual who, in the course of the trilogy, divorces his wife Trina and moves in with his friend Whizzer (Robert Hunt). Trina and Marvin share a son, Jason (Jacob Heimer), who is 10 in March of the Falsettos and 12 ½ in Falsettoland. Trina finds love and marries Marvin’s psychiatrist, Mendel (Philip Hoffman) in March of the Falsettos. Marvin wants his “family” to continue to be “tight knit” – an idea that produces the expected disastrous results. In Falsettoland Dr. Charlotte (Leslie Denniston) and caterer wanna-be Cordelia (Cheryl Stern). Since you have come to care so much for Marvin, Trina, Whizzer, Jason, and Mendel in March of the Falsettos the female couple seem like unwelcome intruders at the opening of Falsettoland but having a character who is both a doctor and a lesbian proves to be crucial to the plot of the second show.
I referred to March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland as chamber operas because they are sung straight thru like an opera, there is no spoken dialogue. The term chamber is applicable because the shows require a small cast, a “tiny little band” (in this case musical director Vadim Feichtner and associate musical director Bobby Nafarrete), and a short running time of a little over an hour each.
I already mentioned the stellar performances of Dean and Binion as Marvin and Trina. Binion sings the hell out of I’m Breaking Down in March of the Falsettos, and Dean is so remarkably tender and moving in his delivery of What More Can I Say? in Falsettoland. The relationship between Marvin and Whizzer is beautifully written by Finn and played by Dean and Hunt. From their sexually charged sparring in March of the Falsettos to their touching reunion and ultimate separation in Falsettoland this is the most refreshingly unstereotyped gay couple I have encountered in modern theatre. Hunt sings magnificently, delivering the radically different numbers The Games I Play in March of the Falsettos and You Gotta Die Sometime in Falsettoland with equal passion and believability.
Heimer looks like he’s having the time of his life playing Jason. Already in possession of his equity card and an agent, Heimer is a well-trained young singer and actor. Hoffman played both Marvin and Mendel (though never in the same performance) in the Broadway production of Falsettos, and he clearly loves performing in this show.
I mentioned that it is hard to cotton up to the two “intruders” in Falsettoland, and Denniston and Stern are saddled with the least sympathetic and most stereotypical roles, but they comport themselves gamely and sing nicely, so that by the end you are glad they are there.
Luke Cantarella has designed a nifty and functional set and outfitted it with props that roll so rapidly I was surprised when they managed to stay still. Of course, there are several large hearts incorporated into the set design, and I am particularly partial to that shape, but I have a feeling I was not the only one who felt that the set was a useful and integral part of the show.
Falsettos runs through August 24 at Barrington Stage Company (413-528-8888) performing at Mt. Everett Regional High School (413-229-8734), on Berkshire School Road between Rts. 7 & 41 in Sheffield. The show runs 2 hours and 15 minutes minutes with one intermission. There are adult language and situations. Suitable for ages 13 and up.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2002
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