Review: ‘Falsettos’ at The Walter Kerr Theatre in NYC

We must thank Andre Bishop and his staff at Lincoln Center Theatre for gifting us with  a very early Christmas present called Falsettos, composer William Finn’s musical with a book he co-wrote with James Lapine, who directed the show. It’s an unalloyed gem, cast impeccably, staged with verve and imagination, Designed, Costumed, Lit and Sound Designed by David Rockwell, Jennifer Caprio, Jeff Croiter and Dan Moses Schreier.

The cast of 'Falsettos.' Photo by Joan Marcus.
The cast of ‘Falsettos.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

To paraphrase something I heard Moss Hart say about the original production of My Fair Lady, which he directed:

Success? I call a lot of it luck. What I mean is, when things go right on a show, when you emerge from your hotel en route to a rehearsal, and it’s pouring rain, an empty taxi pulls up to the door just as you arrive.

Of course he was being modest. But it is true that when an assortment of gifted artists commit to a project, and all of them happen to be on the same page, it does make magic for all of us lucky enough to share in the results.

I had seen the two one-act musicals that were presented, one act a time  in 1981 as March of the Falsettos, with its sequel nine years later in the 1990s as Falsettoland, and again in 1992 when they were combined to form the piece that’s on now, called Falsettos.

As marvelous as Michael Rupert and Stephen Bogardus were as “Marvin” and “Whizzer”, the two principal characters, they are in the best of hands with Christian Borle and Andrew Rannels. The latter two have been growing into true stardom, Borle with several notable contributions (and two Tony Awards) in Peter and the Starcatcher, Something Rotten!, and Spamalot, plus much good work in the TV series Smash.

Rannels came to prominence as Elder Price in The Book of Mormon and briefly as King George in Hamilton, but as “Whizzer” in this current offering he has the opportunity to show his range as an actor. He and Borle as the gay couple who created a stir back in the early 80s, just as the AIDS epidemic was taking root, are absolutely up to anchoring a remarkable cast of 7 who populate this very moving story that deserves to reach a far greater audience than it did  on its first outings, though they were deemed excellent in their day.

Christian Borle (Marvin) and Andrew Rannells (Whizzer). Photo by Joan Marcus.
Christian Borle (Marvin) and Andrew Rannells (Whizzer). Photo by Joan Marcus.

Using a  series of adult size building blocks, the actors themselves arrange and re-arrange them so they serve as settings for bedrooms, living rooms, classrooms, hospital rooms, a handball court  and in one delightful section, as the bleachers facing a playing field at a local baseball diamond.

This piece is almost completely sung-through with most of the story being told by the lyrics, though there are bits of dialogue to bridge the almost 40 titled musical numbers. It’s a sprightly score by William Finn, leavened with intelligent, often incisive lyrics that give the musical muscle and humor and value.

Supporting Borle and Rannels , I immediately mention Anthony Rosenthal,  a child actor whose resumé already includes a  number of other shows including the national tour of Newsies. He sings on pitch, he’s personable, and makes a solid “Jason,” son to Christian Borle’s “Marvin.”

Stephanie J. Block (Trina) and Brandon Uranowitz (Mendel). Photo by Joan Marcus.
Stephanie J. Block (Trina) and Brandon Uranowitz (Mendel). Photo by Joan Marcus.

His mother, Marvin’s estranged wife Trina, is beautifully sung and acted by Stephanie J. Block,  who has done extensive concertizing as well as work on Broadway. Her character “Trina,” could have been written and played one-dimensional as a self-pitier, a victim, or even a shrew. In her big number mid-Act One, “I’m Breaking Down,” in which we see bits of all of these qualities, we empathize totally with her, we understand her confusion, frustration, determination to salvage whatever she can from her relationships with her son Jason, with her ex-husband Marvin whom she still loves, and even with Whizzer, the man who took him away from her. It’s powerful and powerfully delivers it to us, stopping the show.

Brandon Uranowitz plays Mendel, the psychiatrist, who helps himself more than any of his patients during the course of the show, fighting his guilt at falling in love with one of his patients, an absolute no-no in his profession.

This excellent company is rounded out by the performances of Tracie Thoms and Betsy Wolfe as the lesbian Dr. Charlotte and her adorable partner Cordelia, a light hearted Latina who dotes on her. This is truly a sterling ensemble and every member in it has material with which to shine. As a result, the evening shimmers and sparkles, and manages the curve its story serves us with honesty and enormous pathos. We care about Marvin and Whizzer, and that their love for each other causes havoc in so many other lives is central to what Messrs. Finn and Lapine are telling us about life as it is actually lived.

As with all great musical works like Fiddler On The Roof, Gypsy, The Music Man, My Fair Lady,  by showing us the truth with particulars, they all become universal in their appeal. I say, “Welcome to the pantheon to Falsettos.”

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 45-minutes, with one intermission.

Falsettos is playing at The Walter Kerr Theatre -219 West 48th Street, in New York City. For tickets, call Ticketmaster at (800) 653-8000, visit the box office, or purchase them online.
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Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.


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