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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review


Falsetto = a male singing voice that artificially produces tones in an upper register beyond its normal range.
---William Finn's musical saga pushes the "normal " range of conventional family relationships. The "Tight-Knit Family" in "Falsettoland" include: the bi-sexual central character's lover, his ex-wife and her new husband (his erstwhile psychiatrist), his soon to be bar-mitzvahed son, and a Lesbian couple who become the equivalent of a nurturing aunt and uncle.
Falsettos, which opened last Saturday at Barrington Stage is a chamber musical combining what William Finn's fans (count me as one!) generally refer to as the Marvin trilogy. In the first and least familiar, In Trousers (1987), Marvin's conflict about his sexual identity and desire for a conventional family life is established. In The March of the Falsettos (1981), Marvin leaves his wife and son for Whizzer. In Falsettoland (1990), a new family configuration sees Marvin's wife Trina married to Mendel his psychiatrist, son Jason thirteen and bar-mitzvah ready and the boy-toy Whizzer becoming a man faced with death during the emerging AIDS epidemic of 1981.

Is it worth bringing back? The flaws are so minor, that the answer is a decided Yes.

First the score, which is after all the topmost consideration in any musical's evaluation. William Finn's sung-through score is lyrical and sophisticated, full of intricate multiple harmonies. The more than three dozen lyrics are an effortless combination of emotional warmth and sophistication. Unlike many musical theater composers Mr. Finn does not rely on reprises though with forty-one songs that just keep coming along there is a feeling of repetition that seems to beg at least a few deletions. As with any musical, there are numbers that will stick in your memory more than others -- with everyone's favorite likely to be "The Baseball Game " with the full ensemble near the top of Act Two, with "Everyone Hates His Parents" a close second.

Second, there's the book. The Finn-James Lapine libretto is something of a soap opera but it remains a heartwarming mix of sad and funny The 1981 onset of the AIDS epidemic may make this seem like a something of a period piece but this dark chapter in our medical history is hardly a closed book. And there are more and more kids who can identify with a family network is not the American as Apple Pie norm.

Then there's the cast and the look and pace of the production. All praiseworthy.

Rob Ruggiero directs the production with the same vitality and pace he brought to No Way To Treat a Lady (our review) a few seasons ago, and with two members of that cast (Bradley Dean and Leslie Denniston). The miking, as is usual in this big high school auditorium, takes getting used to and some of the cast need a bit for their voices to warm up, but generally speaking all seven rise to the challenge of the intricacies of the often overlapping songs. All move with great fluidity manage to embellish the humor when their characters need to be funny, and to intensify the heartache of the more intense moments.

Director Ruggiero and his able design cast have mounted the show with stimulating, minimalist staging. The four much-used doors of cool blue and green set may seem more suitable for a farce than a story that makes bringing along tissues mandatory, but they work for both the first act and the more realistic (and superior) soap-operatic second half. The few simple roll-out props, which include an over-sized symbolic heart, retain the chamber musical genre's intimacy. The musicians are discreetly tucked away behind the set, seen only during one moment when that heart moves up and away.

Bradley Dean is a fine Marvin and there's a believable and touching energy between him and Robert Hunt, a handsome and endearing Whizzer. Philip Hoffman, who here plays Mendel, though he's also played Marvin in other productions, is wonderful as the 60s psychiatrist navigating the 80s world. Young Jacob Heimer has a fine voice and is just right as the boy who in "My Father Is a Homo" complains that "My mother is no wife, my father is no man" and whose bar mitzvah truly marks his becoming not just a man but a mensch. The three female roles are ably played by Sandy Binion as Trina, and the second act arrivals, Cheryl Stern and Leslie Denniston. Stern as the very domestic Cordelia and Denniston as the doctor she is thrilled to have nabbed, add some needed additional humor to the darkening mood. They also provide comfort in the form of medical care and culinary treats to Whizzer and what has become his family.

Perhaps the best illustration of Finn's success in the universal appeal of the story as well as the lyrical, sophisticated score is the success of The National Asian American Theatre Company's 1998 Off-Broadway production of Falsettoland (Our Review). As that cast and the current ensemble at Barrington Stage prove, you don't have to be Jewish or Gay to appreciate the terrific harmonies and lyrics, to enjoy the humor and zip of " The Baseball Game" and to wipe a tear from your eyes during such schmaltzy ballads as "Unlikely Lovers."

Finn's more than forty songs are not quite as recognizably hummable as those in Roger & Hammerstein's South Pacific, which opened Barrington Stage's season, but the two musicals, with their very different styles, turn out to be a very apt bookends. Both are about accepting differences. Both feature music and lyrics by men at the top of their creative game. South Pacific, with its almost too familiar score, was well-timed to coincide with Richard Rodger's hundredth birthday.

Falsettos is timely in its own way, as a reminder that the disease that still had no name in 1981, is still with us even though many young people are misguidedly ignoring its continued grim consequences. Both demonstrate the pleasures of musicals as vibrant and intelligent theater.

Mr. Finn, like Stephen Sondheim, proves that lyricism and the sung-through operatic musical can be as compatible as -- well, a family in which " Father's a Homo", your mother falls in love with his Shrink, and the Lesbians next door become part of the clan. Whether you saw part or all of it before or not, this revival is well worth a trip to Sheffield.

Music and lyrics by William Finn,
Book by Finn and James Lapine
Director: Rob Ruggiero
Musical Director: Vadim Feichtner
Cast: Bradley Dean (Marvin), Sandy Binion (Trina), Phillip Hoffman (Mendel), Jacob Heimer (Jason), Robert Hunt (Whizzer), Leslie Denniston (Dr. Charlotte), Cheryl Stern (Cordelia)
Sets: Luke Cantarella
Costumes: C.David Russell
Lights: Jeff Croiter
Sound: Jim van Bergen
. Assistant Musical Director: Bobby Nafarrete
The boys in the band: Dennis Arcana (percussions), David Loy Song (reed player) Barrington Stage at Consolati Performing Arts Center, Sheffield, MA (413/528-8888 Website
Performances: August 7 and runs through August 24, 2002
. Tuesday through Sunday
Running time: Approximately
Reviewed by Elyse Sommerbased on August 10th performance
Musical Numbers
Act One

  • Four Jews in a Room Bitching/Mendel, Marvin, Whizzer, Jason
  • A Tight Knit Family/Marvin
  • Love is Blind/Company
  • Thrill of First Love/Marvin, Whizzer
  • Marvin at the Psychiatrist/ Marvin, Whizzer, Jason
  • My Father's a Homo/Jason
  • Everyone Tells Jason to see a Psychiatrist/Company
  • This had Better Come to a Stop/Company
  • I'm Breaking Down/Trina
  • Please Come to our Home/Company
  • A Marriage Proposal/Mendel
  • A Tight Knit Family(reprise)/Marvin, Mendel
  • Trina's Song/Trina
  • March of the Falsettos/Mendel, Marvin, Whizzer, Jason
  • Trina's Song (reprise)/Trina
  • The Chess Game/Whizzer, Marvin
  • Making a Home/Trina, Mendel, Whizzer
  • The Games I Play/Whizzer
  • Marvin Hits Trina/Company
  • I Never Wanter to Love You/Company
  • Father to Son/Marvin, Jason
Act Two

  • Falsettoland/Company
  • Year Of The Child/Dr. C, Cor, Marvin, Trina, Mendel, Jason
  • The Baseball Game/Company
  • Miracle of Judaism/Company
  • A Day in Falsettoland/Dr. C, Cor, Marvin, Trina, Mendel, Jason, Whizzer
  • Racquetball/Company
  • The Fight/Company
  • Everyone Hates His Parents/Marvin, Trina, Mendel, Jason
  • What More Can I Say?/Marvin, Whizzer
  • Something Bad is Happening/Dr. C. Cor
  • Second Racquetball/Marvin Whizzer-- and Company
  • Holding to the Ground/Trina
  • Days Like This/Company
  • Canceling the Bar Mitzvah, Jason, Trina, Mendel
  • Unlikely Lovers/Marvin, Whizzer, Dr. C. Cor.
  • Another Miracle of Judaism/Jason
  • Something Bad. . .(reprise)/Dr. C.
  • Jason's Bar Mitzvah/Company
  • What Would I Do? Marvin, Whizzer
  • Finale/Company
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