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Falsettos ~ The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
June 18, 2019 

Written at the height of the AIDS epidemic, Falsettos has been an anthem to the love and emotional support gays and their families experienced as they watched their love ones die off in droves.  It had its Broadway debut in 1992, but before that the musical had appeared Off-Broadway as March of the Falsettos in 1981 and Falsettoland in 1990.  Thanks to Composer and Lyricist James Lapine’s efforts, you’d be hard pressed to find a musical with a more difficult score to sing.

Trina, Jason and Marv in Eden Espinosa, Thatcher Jacobs and Max von Essen. Photo by Joan Marcus.

It is a story of Marvin, his wife, Trina, and their boy, Jason.  When Marvin leaves his family for Whizzer, a cocky, handsome gay man, the couple turns to Mendel, the psychiatrist to sort it all out.  Mendel falls for Trina and, oh well, it’s complicated.

Mendel and Marvin – Nick Blaemire and Max von Essen. Photo by Joan Marcus.

If you look at it as a story only about gays and AIDS, it seems incontrovertibly dated.  A broader perspective might be to think of it in terms of devotion or, perhaps, altruism – the devotion of caregivers and the empathy required to sacrifice one’s own needs for another’s touches everyone.  At least that’s how I came to view it, because, in that deeper way, it can be far more relatable.

But it’s not for everyone.  It’s overly long, nearly three hours, and demands our sympathies in uncomfortable ways.  Do we like how Marvin destroys his marriage to Trina and cavalierly ignores his own son?  Certainly not.  Is he not vain, egotistical, obsessive, hurtful and destructive?  All of the above.  Do we notice that their shrink Mendel cuckolds Marvin, his original patient?  Indeed, we do.  What about the tempestuous and superficial relationship between Whizzer and Marvin?  “We like fighting most,” he admits.  Should we care?  And, though they are Jewish, their only nod to religion is their insistence that Jason have a Bar Mitzvah, even though the boy is dead set against one.  The pessimism, obsessions and neuroses can be soul-killing to witness.

Marvin and Whizzer ~ Max von Essen and Nick Adams. Photo by Joan Marcus.

In “Trina’s Song” she laments that men are so immature yet rule the world.  Here, Lapine and Finn offer a brief nod to women’s liberation and her hopes for a more fulfilling life, but then do a 180 making Trina a stay-at-home wife and mother.  It is only when Whizzer is dying and Marvin returns to care for him with their lesbian neighbors, Cordelia and Dr. Charlotte, that we witness the human connection.

Cordelia and Dr. Charlotte ~ Audrey Cardwell and Bryonha Marie Parham. Photo by Joan Marcus.

As a sing-through that includes 37 titled numbers and scenes, the musical stretches the vocal talents of any singer and in this production it takes a host of Broadway veterans.

The Company ~ Photo by Joan Marcus

Directed by James Lapine, Set by David Rockwell, Costumes by Jennifer Caprio, Lighting by Jeff Croiter, Choreography by Spencer Liff, and Sound by Dan Moses Schreier.

With Max Von Essen as Marvin, Thatcher Jacobs or Jonah Mussolino as Jason, Nick Adams as Whizzer, Nick Blaemire as Mendel, Eden Espinosa as Trina, Bryonha Marie Parham as Dr. Charlotte, and Audrey Cardwell as Cordelia.

Through June 23rd in the Eisenhower Theater at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

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