The off-Broadway, one-act musicals March of the Falsettos (1981) and Falsettoland (1990), created by William Finn and James Lapine, got conjoined in 1992 by Finn and Lapine into the extravagantly creative Broadway musical, Falsettos, which won three Tonys, then went on to national tours, a Broadway revival in 2016, and the current national tour which opened last night at the Ahmanson Theatre. This show has legs!
Falsettos, essentially a tale of urban Jewish angst over sexual relationships and family impact, kicks off with the hilarious curtain-raiser, “Four Jews in a Room Bitching,” with the main character, Marvin (Max von Essen), his son, Jason (the amazingly talented, pint-sized young actor Thatcher Jacobs, who shares the role with Jonah Mussolino), Marvin’s lover, Whizzer (Nick Adams), and the psychiatrist, Mendel (Nick Blaemire), all garbed in biblical attire and beards in a kvetching song, as the ex-wife, Trina (powerful, golden-voiced Eden Espinosa) expresses exasperation. It is 1979, and, as the action gets into the meat of the show, it becomes clear that the staid Marvin went with his homosexual urges, divorced his wife, and took up with the vivacious, temperamental Whizzer, who is exasperatingly on-again, off-again with his lover. Trina, her marriage a shambles and her son withdrawn into a preoccupation with chess, has sessions with the psychiatrist, who has developed longings for her. In some very unprofessional behavior, this is the same psychiatrist that analyzes Marvin. In the second act, time has past. It is 1981and it is bar mitzvah time for Jason, and the neighbors Dr. Charlotte (Bryonha Marie Parham) and Cordelia (Audrey Cardwell), make their appearance, bringing their considerable voices into mix.
The vocal prowess of the cast is awesome. The score consists of thirty-seven numbers boasting rapid-fire patter songs and ballads of emotional power. The three men—von Essen, Adams, and Blaemire—have terrific range and finesse, and the boy, Jacobs, matches them with his wonderful, pre-pubescent soprano. The score calls for tight harmonies, with exquisite, achingly winsome, slightly dissonant chords. But wait! All the actors, including the boy, dance up a storm to the inventive choreography of Spencer Liff.
Under the inspired direction of James Lapine, Falsetto is everything one could wish for in a musical and the physical production matches the action. Upon entering the auditorium, the audience is confronted by scenic designer David Rockwell’s large, enigmatic Rubik’s-like cube surrounded with huge, shadowy urban buildings and skyscrapers upstage, left and right. The cube gets dissembled and reassembled by the cast to create a myriad of furniture and set pieces. Lighting by Jeff Croiter is subtle and always on the mark; Jennifer Capri’s costumes reinforce action and character; and the sound design by Dan Moses Schreier is impeccable.
The Lincoln Center Theater Production of Falsettos runs through May 19 at The Ahmanson Theatre in The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles.