What a great feeling to see live theater again at Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre. My last time there was in 2019. As Artistic Director Lisa Carrier Baker said in the playbill, “Elated does not begin to describe how we feel to be back in the Theatre Arts Arena, with you, after a three-year hiatus.” This was my first time seeing the very moving and important musical Falsettos. I was not disappointed by Kurt Boehm’s wonderful direction or Nathan Beary Blustein’s smooth and well-executed musical direction. Falsettos was written by William Finn and James Lapine, with music and lyrics by Finn. The musical premiered on Broadway in 1992 and was nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning for Best Book and Best Original Score.
The cast is small but talented and mighty. Falsettos takes place in New York City in 1979. It tells the story of Marvin, played by the talented Ben Clark, who leaves his wife, Trina, brilliantly played by Emma Hanks. Darien Chan played their ten-year-old son Jason. The young actor performed as if he had been acting for years.
Marvin leaves Trina for his gay lover, Whizzer, sensitively played by Jimmy Bartlebaugh. This creates a ripple effect of guilt, anger, sadness, and betrayal. Marvin and his family are Jewish, and he is very proud of his heritage and his family, as we hear in the song “A Tight-Knit Family.” The first act centers around how this action impacts him and his family. His wife seeks out therapy with a psychiatrist, Mendel, well-acted by Sam Intrater. Mendel is instantly attracted to Trina as she grapples with the end of her marriage to Marvin in the song “Love Is Blind.”
Marvin and Whizzer have their own issues to work through, one being Marvin’s desire for monogamy with Whizzer in the song “The Thrill of First Love.” Jason worries about his future in the hilarious number “My Father’s a Homo,” and all involved urge Jason to see a psychiatrist (“Everyone Tells Jason to See a Psychiatrist”). Trina worries about her role in the family being replaced by Whizzer and she belts out a resounding, emotional, and entertaining rendition of “I’m Breaking Down.” There are a lot of wonderful musical numbers that round out Act One, most notably “March of the Falsettos,” beautifully harmonized by Intrater, Clark, Chan, and Bartlebaugh.
Act Two fast-forwards to 1981, the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, with a reference to the indifference of Nancy Reagan, who chose to focus on the “war on drugs” instead of the looming AIDS crisis. The act opens with a delightful rendition of “Falsettoland” led by Intrater and the entire company. Marvin has new neighbors, Dr. Charlotte, finely acted by Valerie Nagel, and her lesbian girlfriend, Cordelia, convincingly played by Cate Ginsberg.
The musical flows from song to song with very little dialogue. I was not sure how I felt about this at first, but the storytelling drew me in. The costume pieces were very well matched to each character and the time period by Costume Designer Kristina Martin. The set design by Elizabeth McFadden was representative of New York City and really worked for this production. The cast members were well suited to each of their roles, with stand-out performances from Ben Clark, Emma Hanks, and Darien Chen.
As director Kurt Boehm said in his playbill director’s note, Falsettos is “an important piece of theatre as it represents the LGBTQ community, Judaism, coming out, and living your life proudly with dignity and honor.”
Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
Falsettos plays June 24, 2022, at 8 pm, June 25 at 8 pm, and June 26 at 2 pm presented by Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre performing in the Theatre Arts Arena, Theatre Arts Building, Rockville Campus, 51 Mannakee Street, Rockville, MD. Tickets ($65 buffet and show, $25 show only) can be purchased online or by calling 240-567-5301 (box office hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.).
COVID Safety: Vaccine cards will be checked at the door. All patrons must provide proof of vaccination OR a recent negative COVID test (within 72 hours of the show). Masks must be worn to enter the arena, approach the buffet, and during the show.
Assistant Musical Director, Matthew Dohm
Lighting Designer, Lynn Joslin
Sound Designer, Frank DeSando