Part of what I wanted to do when I started this blog was to see shows in Philadelphia and review them. I’m sorry to say, that didn’t end up happening this quarter. This winter was especially busy for me and the only show in Philadelphia I ended up seeing was Drexel Co-op Theatre Company’s Devil’s Auction.
So, I thought it would be cool to introduce a new segment: SPOTLIGHT.
Every month, I’ll choose one musical or play to shine a spotlight on. I’ll write a post about the show, its history, my opinions on it, and any relevant news surrounding the show. This new segment will allow you to learn a bit about a new show every month and you might even find a new favorite!
Let’s start it off with my personal favorite musical, Falsettos.
Falsettos has actually only been my favorite musical for just over three months. Before December 10th, 2016, I didn’t know anything about this amazing show that has, since then, completely captured my heart.
For my 2nd annual post-finals trip to New York, I was going to see My Name is Gideon: I’m Probably Going to Die, Eventually, one of the shows I worked on in Edinburgh, with a couple of my friends from NYU. Since my friends were going to be busy after lunch until the show, I thought it would be good to try to see a matinee that afternoon. I had heard a lot of good buzz about Falsettos, and I knew of everyone in the cast (four out of seven of whom are Tony nominees and one of whom is two-time Tony winner Christian Borle), but other than that I knew nothing about the show. I decided to see it, got a ticket through TodayTix, and had the ultimate privilege of going in to this beautiful show blind.
Falsettos had a long journey to Broadway and the production I saw was actually the revival of the original 1992 production. The show started out as the composer William Finn’s conceptual musical In Trousers, which opened Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in 1979. In Trousers focuses on Marvin, a gay man who leaves his wife (Trina) and son (Jason) for another man (Whizzer). The show is much more like a song cycle (a group of individual songs designed to be performed together), than a true musical. While it takes a number of listens to begin to understand what exactly is going on, I recommend listening to this show because the music is just fantastic. Highlights include: “Set Those Sails”, “The Nausea Before the Game/Love Me for What I Am”, and “How Marvin Eats His Breakfast”.
After working on In Trousers, William Finn started collaborating with the director and writer James Lapine. Together, Finn and Lapine created the two one-act musicals March of the Falsettos (1981) and Falsettoland (1990), which both continued the story of Marvin, in a more streamlined and coherent form. March of the Falsettos takes place a few months after Marvin leaves Trina. It focuses on Marvin’s strained relationship with his family and his “friend” as well as the toxicity of masculinity and the way the men in Trina’s life (Marvin, Jason, Whizzer, and Marvin’s psychiatrist, Mendel) have affected her. Falsettoland starts about three years after the events of March as the “tight-knit family” prepares for Jason’s Bar Mitzvah in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.
March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland were combined into Falsettos, which opened on Broadway on April 29, 1992. Falsettos starred Michael Rupert, Barbara Walsh, Stephen Bogardus, Chip Zien, Jonathan Kaplan, Heather MacRae, and Carolee Carmello and was nominated for seven Tony Awards, of which it won two for Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical. It ran for a little over a year, closing on June 27, 1993.
Almost 25 years later, the revival of Falsettos opened on Broadway on October 27, 2016 for a limited run through January 8, 2017, starring Christian Borle, Stephanie J. Block, Andrew Rannells, Brandon Uranowitz, Anthony Rosenthal, Tracie Thoms, and Betsy Wolfe. The revival cast album is the first time the music from the show has been released in its entirety. PBS also filmed the show and will broadcast it sometime in the fall of 2017.
I didn’t know what I was getting into when I walked into the Walter Kerr Theatre, but about 30 seconds into the second number, I was hooked (I’d say the first number, but the first number is a bit shocking when you don’t have any context). Falsettos is completely sung through, which is one quality that I really enjoy in musicals (and means that you can listen to the whole show even if you can’t see it!). The lyrics are witty. Really witty and smart and William Finn has this incredible skill at making his music fit perfectly with and contribute to the emotions of a scene—this show gets pretty emotional. It’s not just sad though, it’s hilariously funny.
For a show that was written in the 80’s, it stands up amazingly well and is so relevant to the political and social climate we’re in today. Following the presidential election on November 9, 2016, Stephanie J. Block, who played Trina in the revival, received an ovation following her line “I’m tired of all the happy men who rule the world…happy frightened men who rule the world” in the song “Trina’s Song”.
If you’re looking for song suggestions (be wary of SPOILERS!), Stephanie J. Block’s “I’m Breaking Down” kills. “Everyone Hates His Parents” and “The Baseball Game” are hilarious and fun. “The Games I Play”, “This Had Better Come to a Stop”, “Making a Home”, “What Would I Do”, and “Holding to the Ground” are personal favorites. “Unlikely Lovers” and “What More Can I Say” are two of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. I’m going to stop now before I list all of the songs.
I love this show, it’s absolutely brilliant and I don’t think I can say anything better than the New York Times’ assertion that Falsettos is a “perfect musical”. If you have any opinions on the show or listen to it (you can buy it and Spotify streaming starts April 28) or watch the PBS broadcast because of this post, let me know! My roommate is getting tired of me talking about Falsettos all the time…