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Review: 'Falsettos'

Christian Borle, Andrew Rosenthal, Stephanie J. Block (Photo: Joan Marcus, PR)

Christian Borle, Andrew Rosenthal, Stephanie J. Block (Photo: Joan Marcus, PR)


I never saw the original 1981 production of March of the Falsettos, the 1990 production of its sequel, Falsettoland, or the 1992 production which combined the two one-acts into Falsettos. But Lincoln Center Theater is presenting a just-opened revival at the Walter Kerr Theatre, and I'm mighty glad I finally got to see William Finn's musical.

The main characters are Marvin, who's left his wife, Trina, to be with his lover, Whizzer, but wants to maintain a tight-knit family with his 10-year-old son, Jason. At Marvin's urging Trina sees Marvin's psychiatrist, Mendel, who proceeds to fall in love with her. Sounds like a soap opera, but the songs and the cast are so strong that you care about the charcaters.

Although the leads aren't household names (yet), they are bona fide Broadway stars. Christian Borle, a Tony winner for Peter and the Starcatcher and Something Rotten!, uses his ingratiating charm as Marvin, leavening some his character's irritating control issues in the first act. In the second, with his lover dying of AIDS, he earns our sympathy with his newfound compassion and pain. And Borle's lovely voice caresses Finn's songs, especially the aching ballad, "What More Can I Say?"

Stephanie J. Block, a Tony nominee for the title role of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, plays Trina, an unglamorous role, but brings the house down when she belts "I'm Breaking Down" while wielding a knife. Andrew Rannells (late of The Book of Mormon) as Whizzer has a hard body, the sexy looks of a young Chris Isaak, and a gorgeous voice, especially effective in the closing duet with Marvin, "What Would I Do?" Brandon Uranowitz has a Ben Stiller air as the shrink who's as neurotic as his patients, and Andrew Rosenthal has a good voice and stage presence as the kid Jason.

The play opens with a large cube of interlocking pieces which comes apart to become chairs, tables, and other props - and to symbolize the interlocking of their lives. The music is a little reminiscent of Company, and while Finn isn't as masterful a lyricist as Stephen Sondheim, his rhymes are smart and often clever. There's a shift in tone from the first act, a brittle comedy, to the second, set during the AIDS epidemic, which is so poignant it had me in tears. Give credit also to the co-author and director, James Lapine, who's been one of Sondheim's best collaborators, for making all the pieces fit and making it feel relevant.

Falsettos is very New York, very Jewish, and very worth seeing.