The motley crew of neurotic and quasi-neurotic characters in Falsettos, now playing at the Kennedy Center, offers an eye-opening look at all-too-human dilemmas. The rituals of everyday life under stress are scrutinized with laser-sharp wit and bracing lyrics courtesy of Composer and Lyricist William Finn.
This unique yet compelling musical’s two acts differ decidedly in tone, yet both involve coming to terms with one’s identity amidst the changing political and social climate of the late 1970’s to the 1980’s. The book, co-written by James Lapine and Mr. Finn, combines the earlier musicals March of The Falsettos and Falsettoland in one unified whole.
Falsettos follows a married couple (Marvin and Trina) whose marriage is tested due to the husband’s relationship with a gay man, Whizzer. Mr. Finn’s sensitive songs are expressive and beautifully developed and the book by Finn and Lapine is finely wrought.
The yearnings of the romantic and non-conformist soul are laid bare in Marvin (Max von Essen) and Whizzer’s (Nick Adams) insistent “Thrill of First Love” as the two characters embrace their love with abandon. In this and other numbers, Mr. von Essen was a bit on the stolid side (his voice rang thin in the first act) but he settled into a nice rhythm in the second act with the haunting “What More Can I Say?”. Mr. von Essen displayed authority on stage and was effective interacting with his son Jason (Jonah Mussolino – at certain performances Thatcher Jacobs) and in his love-drenched duet with Whizzer “What Would I Do?”.
Adams possesses solid acting chops throughout and delivers a knockout punch of musical adrenaline in the manipulative “The Games I Play” and the fatalistic “You Gotta Die Sometime”.
As the only child in the cast, Mussolino is bracingly honest and highly confident. A much-needed quality as he delivers the songs “Miracle of Judaism” and “Another Miracle of Judaism” directly at the apron of the stage.
Eden Espinosa is delightfully manic and anxiety-ridden as Trina, the wife who is trying to make sense of this turn in her marriage. In “I’m Breaking Down” and “Holding to the Ground,” Ms. Espinosa had a captivating grace and natural presence onstage.
Nick Blaemire as Mendel the Psychiatrist, continually surprised with just the right mixture of control counterbalanced with humorous excess. Blaemire shone in the zany “Everyone Hates His Parents”.
Bryonha Marie Parham (Dr. Charlotte) and Audrey Cardwell (Cordelia) were wonderfully endearing as the “Lesbians Next Door,” their characters bringing levity to some very serious moments. Ms. Parham sang “Something Bad Is Happening” with a soulful awareness.
This Lincoln Center production, now on tour throughout the US, is tightly directed by James Lapine with some subtle interactive touches (that I will not disclose) that I do not recall from earlier productions. The production also features the zesty, bouncy choreography of Spencer Liff – vaudeville turns, moonwalks and acrobatic pizzazz. Set Design by David Rockwell is a stylized treat with a cityscape skyline backdrop that overlooks large modular cubes that the actors shape into a variety of configurations in the foreground. Costumes by Jennifer Caprio are brightly colored and eye-catching.
Musical Supervision by Vadim Feichtner is stellar and conducting by P. Jason Yarcho was superb. The “teeny-tiny band” (as described in the show’s lyrics) was evocative and accomplished.
Falsettos is a musical that speaks to the beating heart.
Running Time: Two Hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.