There are a lot of things I liked about the Tony Award-winning musical “Falsettos,” now at The Ahmanson Theatre. I fully understand why it was nominated for five 2017 Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, however at almost three hours long, with 37 songs by composer/lyricist William Finn and playwright and director James Lapine it needs to be cut down to 120 minutes for this LA audience.
The reason why it is so long is because this production is based on multiple one-acts fused together by Finn and Lapine. It started back in 1979 with “In Trousers.” Then in 1981, they created “March of the Falsettos,” and in 1990 a new musical “Falsettoland.” The show focused on the same family dynamic, yet added a plot about the AIDS crisis. Then in 1992, these one-act musicals were combined and opened on Broadway as “Falsettos.” It ran for over a year and won Tony Awards for Finn’s score and Finn and Lapine’s book.
Recently to refresh the musical for today’s audience, Spencer Liff was hired to cleverly choreograph the show. Liff knows a thing or two about dancing, for the past eight years he has been a resident choreographer for the hit Emmy-nominated television show “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Another creative aspect of this musical is the set by David Rockwell, starting with oversized wooden blocks shaped into a cube on an empty stage. This cube is pushed and pulled into pieces to build tables, chairs, and even doorway thresholds. Lighting by Jeff Croiter enhances the set with windows on the New York skyline silhouette, beautiful sunsets and gives us a peek at the orchestra above the set.
“Falsettos” begins in the year 1979, as the five main characters sing and dance to “Four Jews in a Room Bitching” and “one half-Jew.” We learn about this dynamic family unit in “A Tight-Knit Family” is starting to crumble when followed by the number “Love is Blind” and “Thrill of First Love.” The head of the household, Marvin (Max Von Essen) is falling in love with a younger man, Whizzer (Nick Adams). He is ready to leave his wife Trina (Eden Espinosa) and son Jason (Thatcher Jacobs) for this handsome stud.
My favorite show stopper is when Espinosa beautifully sings the hysterical number “I’m Breaking Down.” She received such thunderous applause on opening night, and did again during her “Trina’s Song” solo, about how she is “tired of all the happy men who rule the world.”
What makes this show so enjoyable to watch is the talent. Each actor and actress have a unique gift, including precocious Jason (Thatcher Jacobs). Both Van Essen and Espinosa’s melodic voice offers rich emotional warmth. Other standout singers include Bryonha Marie Parham as Dr. Charlotte and Nick Blaemire as the lovable therapist Mendel. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the entertaining Mendel with his perfect comic timing and snazzy dance moves.
Some of Liff’s best choreographed numbers include Marvin and Whizzer in “Thrill of First Love,” “Jason’s Therapy” and “Marriage Proposal.”
The play gets neurotic and violent at times as Marvin frustratingly tries to understand what he wants in life, as well as what he wants to be as a man and father of a young son. He is possessive and critical at times, angry that the toned Whizzer doesn’t desire the same monogamy. It doesn’t help that Marvin’s ex-wife falls in love with his therapist Mendel.
I thought the “March of the Falsettos” was a little odd, and after intermission, the reference to “homosexuals” while shining a bright light into the audience was a little intrusive. The bright light also showed a few empty seats around me. I’m glad I didn’t leave at intermission, because the second act offers a series of songs that reveal a health issue, uniting of a family, and time period that can never be forgotten.
It opens with wooden blocks creatively constructed into three doorways alluding to three different relationships. We are introduced to two new cast members, Dr. Charlotte (Bryonha Marie Parham) and her lover Cordelia the caterer (Audrey Cardwell).
It’s 1981 with references to Ronald and Nancy Reagan in the White House in “Welcome to Falsettoland.” Trina dressed in a Jane Fonda-style aerobic outfit, and Dr. Charlotte cluing us in that “Something Bad is Happening,” alluding to the first cases of a dangerous new virus (AIDS) reported in the United States.
The musical gets even more neurotic with the stress of Jason’s soon to be Bar Mitzvah and Whizzer’s illness. There are some very tender numbers, especially “Days Like This I Almost Believe in God” and Von Essen singing with tears falling on his cheek “What Would I Do?”
A family of three eventually grows to seven, and then to six in this poignant, yet hilariously at times musical. What I loved most is that each actor generously gave the audience their heart and soul. The standing ovation they received at the end, was their justly reward for such a stellar performance.
Tickets for “Falsettos” are available by calling (213) 972-4400, online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org, or by visiting the Center Theatre Group Box Office located at the Ahmanson Theatre. Tickets range from $30 – $145 (ticket prices are subject to change). The Ahmanson Theatre is located at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles, 90012.