Actually, Falsettos has two separate time periods, 1979 in the
first act, and 1981 in the second, although its AIDS-themed subtext
clearly resonated with Gotham audiences in the 1990s and still does to
this day. Yet the revival being done by Rarely Done Productions,
presented as a fund-raiser in collaboration with ArtRage Gallery,
maintains a timeless feel untethered to any era, so there’s no need for a
costumer to root around for bell bottoms and cheese fondue pots.
This musical by lyricist William Finn (The 25th Annual Putnam
County Spelling Bee) and James Lapine (Sunday in the Park with
George) is actually two-thirds of the “Marvin trilogy” consisting of
previous one-acts March of the Falsettos (produced in 1981) and Falsettoland
(1990), with parts of the first playlet In Trousers (1979)
sprinkled into Falsettos’ first act. And make no mistake that Falsettos
is all singing all the time, save for one dialogue snippet (“Well, that
went well,” which follows a disastrous moment) that has since become an
all-purpose sitcom one-liner.
Marvin (played by Peter Irwin) is at the center of the musical
maelstrom. A Manhattanite with a wife, Trina (Katie Lemos Brown), and a
tween-age son, Jason (Nick Godzak), Marvin outs himself early on in Falsettos
and declares his love for a younger man named Whizzer (Dana Sovocool).
In song Marvin declares “I want it all,” but it’s not easy reconciling
both his hetero role as doting dad to a confused son (“My father’s a
homo,“ warbles Jason, “my mom’s not thrilled at all.”) and his queer
yearnings for Whizzer. It doesn’t help that both guys play intense games
of one-upmanship, be it chess or racquetball, although Whizzer does
allow Marvin some victories in order to keep the relationship going.
Meanwhile, all this emotional trauma must trigger some psychiatric
intervention, as Mendel the shrink (Josh Mele) enters the picture. Yet
when Mendel casts some romantic overtures toward the divorced Trina,
Marvin is placed in a sort of quasi state of jealousy as he fears what
may happen to the family dynamic he has left behind. The Marvin-Whizzer
relationship is also crumbling, as they disagree about everything: Has
it been nine months of squabbling, or maybe 10?
Falsettos’ second act takes place two years later as the cast
mushrooms to seven with the introduction of two additional characters.
They are lovingly referred to as “the lesbians next door,” Dr. Charlotte
(Shannon Tompkins) and caterer Cordelia (Sara Weiler). They all seem to
be part of a new-age blended nuclear family of gays and straights, with
Marvin and Whizzer even getting back together during a Little League
game as they cheer on the baseball-challenged Jason.
But life-altering change is in the air, as Charlotte’s song
“Something Bad is Happening” foreshadows a crisis of “contagion,”
followed by a mysterious illness that strikes Whizzer. With Whizzer near
death and Jason’s bar mitzvah right around the corner, Marvin
ultimately realizes that he can’t have it all, thus paving the way for a
poignant climax. And if the finale doesn’t make you a little misty,
better check your family tree to learn if you’re a distant cousin to
Director Dan Tursi and music director-pianist Jeff Unaitis (alluded
to as “the teeny tiny band” in lyrics) first met each other during a
1984 Contemporary Theatre of Syracuse production of March of the
Falsettos when the downtown Civic Center still had its annual
SummerFest slate of one-weekend performances presented by area community
theaters at the Carrier Theater. (Ah, nostalgia: Even 26 years ago
local groups risked their box-office fates to put on cutting-edge
As the decades raced by, Tursi has matured into a top director as
evidenced by Falsettos’ galloping pace—it sure doesn’t feel like
three hours—and his assured hand with shaping characterizations, never
ever letting his acting flock slip into stereotypes unless they’re
called for in the Finn-Lapine book. Meanwhile, Unaitis has
music-directed a gazillion shows on local floorboards and has become the
go-to guy for productions that require a delicate, understated touch
(as Falsettos certainly needs), yet he’s also capable of going
for the gusto in more commercial vehicles like the early Cruizin’
The Marvin-Whizzer equation takes center stage as the plot catalyst
and requires two actors that can gain audience empathy from the outset.
Peter Irwin adopts a kind of Stanley Tucci-esque persona, coming across
as a brittle, buttoned-down business type who hates to lose, whether
it’s a battle of wills with his new lover or the possibility that his
son will reject dad’s new alternative lifestyle. Yet he’s also
head-over-heels horny for Whizzer, in which Irwin musically maxes out
with his passionate playing of Marvin in “Thrill of First Love,” as he
delivers Finn’s wittily concise lyrics dealing with the domestic
realities that happen long after that first smooch.
In contrast, Dana Sovocool’s always ingratiating Whizzer is also a
studly seducer. With a carefree insouciance Sovocool underscores the
self-awareness of Whizzer’s unapologetic, non-committal boy toy in “The
Games I Play,” a song that also provides a tip-off to explain Whizzer’s
later bout with AIDS.
Falsettos is often a very funny show, with the other players
in charge of much of the comedy. Katie Lemos Brown may seem a tad young
to play the spurned Trina but she easily compensates with enthusiasm
aplenty, especially in the song “I’m Breaking Down” when Trina begins
slicing into some phallic carrots like Lorena Bobbitt on steroids. Josh
Mele adds more amusement as psychiatrist Mendel, notably when he starts
to probe for seedier revelations from whoever’s on his couch.
Nick Godzak is appropriately deadpan as son Jason, still reeling from
not knowing where his place will be in the extended family’s new order.
Shannon Tompkins and Sara Weiler are both sweetly comic as the
next-door lesbians, and just maybe Tompkins, who has choreographed many
shows in town, could have assisted director Tursi with some of the
hoof-happy numbers found in this production. Indeed, everyone brings
their A-game to this welcome version of Falsettos, with ribald
laughs and heartfelt emotions in all the right places.
Falsettos premiered last weekend at Jazz Central, 441 E.
Washington St., with director Tursi shrewdly exploring every inch of the
performance space. The show picks up and transports to Hawley-Green’s
ArtRage Gallery, 505 Hawley Ave., for two additional 8 p.m. performances
on Friday, May 21, and Saturday, May 22, and hopefully Tursi and
company won’t have to reblock too much in order to retain the musical’s
necessary intimacy. For information on Rarely Done, call 546-3224; for
ArtRage details, call 218-5711.