In 1992, James Lapine and William Finn combined two of their one-act, Off-Broadway shows — March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland — to create the Broadway show Falsettos. The first act was set in 1979, and it was groundbreaking since it introduced a married man leaving his family for his gay lover. The abandoned wife eventually moves on and marries her ex-husband and child’s psychiatrist. Act 2 follows two years later in 1981 with lesbian neighbors singing “Something Bad Is Happening” about a virus nobody’s talking about. When Falsettos premiered on Broadway in 1992, AIDS had decimated the Broadway and arts communities, yet it was not portrayed onstage yet. Accordingly, Falsettos truly was revolutionary for raising the subject. Now, in 2016, there have been many art forms that have dealt with this painful subject, including Angels in America and The Normal Heart. Falsettos maintains an important place in Broadway history, but this 2016 production does not.
With the combination of such an important piece of theatre and the amazing cast, Falsettos was a show to see this Broadway season. Unfortunately, it was a huge disappointment to arrive and realize that both Stephanie J. Block and Brandon Uranowitz were out and their understudies would be performing. The understudy for Block simply was not Stephanie J. Block. The entire night was spent wishing for another actress. Coming off of a stage-stealing character in Something Rotten, Christian Borle was a bit blah in this role. At intermission, someone walking by suggested that he was saving his energy to play Willy Wonka in a few months. Borle did what he could with the character, but Marvin is boring. There is a neurotic humor that is supposed to be there that just did not come about in this production. His character was so unlikeable in Act 1 that it was hard to root for him in Act 2. Andrew Rannells was brilliant as Whizzer, which is a difficult role because it is hard to be shallow and superficial while also being snidely funny. He nails it. He is likable. He is often sitting on the side while his character is not involved in the scene. You just want him back in the scene because he is the best part of the production. His rendition of “You Got to Die Sometime” was heartbreaking and perfect for the scene.
The son, Jason, is played by Anthony Rosenthal. Jason was the heart of the show. He is the emotional anchor of the family. He is the one that brings the family together by asking Mendel what his intentions are, encouraging the marriage proposal, including Whizzer in the baseball game and at the bar mitzvah. The best scene in the show was watching “Jewish boys, who cannot play baseball, play baseball.” It was a fun, heartwarming family scene all brought together by Jason. Rosenthal deserves an extra round of applause for his “Another Miracle of Judaism,” which was stellar.
The set was very cool. It was a giant cube that broke into many pieces that the cast moved around to create dozens of scenic designs. It held my interest to try to figure out how the cast would use the pieces to create a different prop for the next scene. The cube pieces gave the show a timeless quality.
Perhaps sometimes an original production speaks to an important moment in society, and after massive social change, the impact of a revival is just not as compelling.