THE DAWN OF THE AIDS CRISIS AND THE “NEW AMERICAN” FAMILY KEEPS FALSETTOS’ FRESH
THE NEW AMERICAN FAMILY CHANGES THE
FABRIC OF LOVE AND LOSS
"A tight-knit family" comes to SHN’s Golden Gate Theatre to open the spring theatre season with FALSETTOS . With music by William Finn and book by James Lapine and Finn this heart filled story is a gem. The Lincoln Center Theater Broadway production of FALSETTOS runs through April 14th on the Golden Gate Stage. Directed by James Lapin he brings a Broadway all star cast including Nick Adams (Priscilla Queen of the Desert) as “Whizzer,” Eden Espinosa (Wicked) as “Trina” and Max von Essen (An American in Paris) as “Marvin.”
A fine tuned global cube is on stage and sets the tone of the show as the sold out opening night crowd find their seats. The main company of guys is featured in the pop tune opening called “Four Jews in a Room Bitching”. The close to three hour musical is all performed in song and Lapin kept the show moving well. Finn first explored his “tight knit family” in 1979 as a sharp one-act musical. James Lapine then joined the team as they opened “March of the Falsettos”, followed with a third edition in 1989 during the height of AIDS crisis now titled “Falsettoland”. In the 90’s both shows were joined to form two one-acts; Falsettos is now the sitcom family Musical that has arrived to open the spring season at SHN. The banner song "March of the Falsettos" is a perfect example of family humor combined with refined performance that captures the mood in the first part of FALSETTOS.
Finn’s two-act musical are two 75-minute musicals played back-to-back with the same characters. Marvin played Max von Essen, divorces his wife Trina played by the terrific Eden Espinosa, shares custody of Jason played by two rotating young actors the energized Thatcher Jacobs and Jonah Mussolino, their 10-year-old son. The plan is to move in with his younger lover Whizzer played by the handsome Nick Adams. It’s 1979, when mixed families was not a trend and the AIDS epidemic was settling in. Whizzer and Marvin enjoy a close loving relationship as they both sing the duet “Thrill of First Love”, the two men show off their strong vocals. But their relationship fails and they predictably break up by the end of Act 1.
The Broadway diva Eden Espinosa takes on "Trina's Song," she complains, "I'm tired of all the happy men who rule the world," while berating herself for loving them. Her madness implosion, "I'm Breaking Down," delivered while preparing a banana and carrot surprise, is one of the many times this musical proves itself. And in "Holding to the Ground," Espinosa sings with accomplished honesty of trying to stay true. Trina is the moral center and in many ways also the key role in FALSETTOS, her fondness for the men in her life dealing with their needy resentment at every turn.
The 70’s soap continues as Trina deals with the confusion, anger and challenges of this information as she sings the elegant song “Please Come to Our House” with Marvin’s and Jason’s therapist, Mendel, played by the dapper Nick Blaemire. Mendel who’s just as neurotic as his patients. Of course, he learns more from the 10 year old about himself in the song “Jasons Therapy”. The set is clean and keen set up with a series of foam blocks that mix and match the feelings of the story. Both young actors Mussolino and Jacobs are on stage most of the two acts and bring a lot to the book. Their songs “My Father's a Homo / Everyone Tells Jason to See a Psychiatrist”, “Miracle of Judaism” and “Father and Sons” are show stoppers.
Act 2 takes place two years later, when Mendel and Trina are “a thing” and Marvin and Whizzer aren’t. Only Jason loves Whizzer, invites him to his ballgame and sparks a father/son bond. But the tone shifts as a mysterious disease is killing off gay men in the song “Something Bad is Happening,” it brings a lively theme to a dark subtext.
FALSETTOS opened on Broadway a year before Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s epic about life during the AIDS crisis; the plots and characters seem as fresh and relevant today as they did during the 80’s. Sondheim wrote his iconic COMPANY in 1970, this reminded me of a HIV modern family version of that musical. A group of adults and one pre teen working it out. Finn’s music is complex lyrics and rhyme schemes rival Sondheim’s; you have to listen in and stay alert to get everything in the story. The banner song “A Day in Falsettoland” with the company highlights the second act, bringing out a more pop score.
David Rockwell's set is highlighted by gray foam building blocks that are endlessly reconfigured, like a “A Good Man Charlie Brown” world. The furnishings may not make this the most high end production, but as we watch these characters move about those tight-knit blocks of foam cubes as they work to build, take apart and rebuild home, life and love. The design is the perfect subtext for the theme of the story. Spencer Liff choreography is fun and keeps the men in lines and young Jason getting some nice steps and jazz hands.
The ending takes a dark turn but it packs an emotional gut feeling. FALSETTOS is as funny as it is important, starting from the opening novelty number “A Tight Knit Family”, until it rips your heart out in “Cancelling the Bar Mitzvah,” “What Would I Do?”. All the performances are terrific combining the talents of high end Broadway vets. The young pre teens Jabobs and Mussoliono as Jason tend to steal the show from the more seasoned adult actors.
FALSETTOS hits home in several places: it's a "coming of age" story and a "finding new love" story. It's a poignant look at the infinite possibilities that make up a modern family and an idea that love tells a million stories. Next up at SHN is actually HAMILTON down the street from the Golden Gate, and Roald Dahl's CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, opens April 16th. TodayTix is offering Rush tickets for FALSETTOS for $40.00, day of show and two hours before each performance. In the meantime join this powerhouse cast for the new “tight-knit family".
SHN GOLDEN GATE PRESENTS
Directed by James Lapine
Book: William Finn, James Lapine
Music & lyrics: William Finn
MUST CLOSE APRIL 14th
Golden Gate Theatre,
1 Taylor St., San Francisco
Tickets: 888-746-1799, www.shnsf.com
Running Time 2 hours 45 minutes with intermission
PHOTOS BY: JOAN MARCUS
CLIP FROM SHOW