Originally written as the two one-act shows ‘March of the Falsettos’ and ‘Falsettoland’, themselves written as sequels to ‘In Trousers’, Falsettos is one of the premier works of veteran composer William Finn, and his long-term collaborator James Lapine.
The show tells the story of Marvin, a middle-aged Jewish man as he explores his latent homosexuality, all the while determined to maintain a tight-knit family. It often feels like the narrative is rocketing by, only stopping in with the characters at the most pivotal points; the result being less of a feeling of story told and more like browsing an old family photo album.
The set is well-designed, with side frames forming extensions to the minimalist on stage setting a lovely idea, although the pixelisation on the projections let it down ever so slightly. Block colours and simple patterns on costumes continue the simple but effective design.
Sung-through, Finn’s music shines with the joyous neurosis of his writing present at all times. With that said, and much as I love Finn’s music, I needed a little less of it as I found myself feeling a little melodically exhausted at points and wondered whether some of the finer points of Marvin’s journey may have benefitted from the freedom of exploration without accompaniment, especially when written alongside the great Lapine.
Tonally, the show works well for the most part; the irreverent, at times even flippant, NYC humour sits well alongside the dry, sarcastic wit Britain oft prides itself for and some of the greatest comic moments land at the height of those awkward moments we can all relate to (well, maybe not all of us – my ex hasn’t slept with my psychiatrist quite yet!) It does, however, seem to flit between naturalism and caricature in storytelling as each number arrives. This, along with the sadly underdeveloped roles of Cordelia and Charlotte and the presence of ‘March of the Falsettos (a rather bewildering moment in the show), feels symptomatic of a musical comprised of two originally separate shows.
The cast for this production do their best and are all quite charming. Daniel Boys has quite a challenge to try and draw out the sympathetic side of the abrasive, insecure Marvin but by the interval, the audience have warmed to the would-be family man. Oliver Savile, as Marvin’s lover, Whizzer, plays the conflicted younger man well and it’s easy to see why he would be the confidante-of-choice for Marvin’s son, Jason (brilliantly played this night by Albert Atack).
As the aforementioned Cordelia and Charlotte, Natasha J Barnes and Gemma Knight-Jones are both in fine voice and full of attitude. They have lovely chemistry together and strong presence but it only goes so far in light of the underbaked nature of the roles. Laura Pitt-Pulford and Joel Montague as Trina and Mendel respectively steal the show for me; both as comfortable in the kitsch scenes as the kitchen sink moments.
While it might be fair assume Falsettos to come off as a little shrill, the show itself comes straight from the heart and, excusing a few areas I’d rather had been further developed, is worth seeing for the strong voices on show and the beauty of William Finn’s melodies.
Review by Ben Powell
The double Tony Award-winning Falsettos is a hilarious and poignant look at a modern family revolving around the life of a gay man Marvin, his wife, his lover, his soon to be bar mitzvahed son, their psychiatrist, and the lesbian neighbours.
Originally created under the spectre of the AIDS crisis, this ground-breaking musical about family dynamics manages to remain buoyant and satirically perceptive even as it moves towards its heartbreaking conclusion.
Selladoor Productions, producers of 9 to 5 The Musical, Big Fish, American Idiot and Avenue Q, bring Falsettos to London for the very first time serving as a timely reminder that love really is the most beautiful thing in the world.
Music & Lyrics by William Finn
Book by William Finn and James Lapine
FALSETTOS – THE MUSICAL
By William Finn (Book/Lyrics) & James Lapine (Book)
Directed by Tara Overfield-Wilkinson
The Other Palace
Dates: 30 August – 23 November 2019