Theater Review: FALSETTOS (National Tour in Chicago)

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by Lawrence Bommer on May 30, 2019

in Theater-Chicago,Tours


By its riveting end Falsettos, a fusion of March of the Falsettos (1981) and Falsettoland (1990), has jolted us with its heartbreak and won us with its wit. This very grown-up musical by composer/lyricist William Finn and bookwriter James Lapine still delivers a daring plot: Marvin leaves wife Trina and son Jason for a guy named Whizzer. Even more unorthodox are the non-nuclear families that form from this fission — Trina and Mendel, the psychiatrist she marries on the rebound; and Whizzer and Marvin who, lacking a marriage contract, are bound, uncertainly, by love. Divided between these diverse households and drawn to three “fathers,” Jason tries to make sense of these anarchic adults and their mystifying realignments. Well, we’re all “trying to keep sane as the rules keep changing.”

The final act adds AIDS to the 140-minute action. That curse forces Marvin’s extended family (which now includes the indomitable lesbians next door) to test their love to the max. The symbol of that strength is the deeply moving finale: Combining ancient ritual with modern anguish, a bar mitzvah occurs in a hospital room. Love can’t get more contagious.

Now stopping at Chicago’s Nederlander Theater in its national tour, Lapine’s valedictory restaging does abundant justice to this multi-faceted, Tony-winning musical. David Rockwell’s supple set uses building blocks to keep the story as basic as child’s play. No show-off steps, Spencer Liff’s choreography comes right out of the story, just like Finn’s still-resonant sung-through score.

The show’s strength remains its telling domestic details and its stream of character-spinning songs. (The love ballad “What More Can I Say?” is a masterpiece of complex adoration.) We feel these lovers from all sides — their dogged hungers, neuroses, hopes and decency. Indeed, Falsettos is the most wrenching kind of plot, a tale of good intentions at cross purposes.

Rising to its occasion are Max Von Essen’s love-torn Marvin, Eden Espinosa’s confused but caring Trina, Nick Blaemire’s wryly adaptable Mendel, Nick Adams’ loyal and athletic Whizzer, and Thatcher Jacobs’ remarkable Jason (who shares the role with Jonah Mussolino), younger but wiser than the rest — plus Bryonha Marie Parham and Audrey Cardwell, happily wholesome as the lesbian neighbors. Family values don’t get more value than this.

photos by Joan Marcus

Lincoln Center Theater Broadway Production
national tour
reviewed at Nederlander Theatre; ends in Chicago on June 9, 2019
tour continues through June 30, 2019
for dates and cities, visit Falsettos

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