It’s a rare show indeed where you can actually hear grown men crying at the final curtain, before the audience rises to its feet almost as one in a wave of what I can only describe as adulation, but then Falsettos is a very rare show.
The show is composed of two one act musicals which follow on from each other, and were first presented as a unified whole under the title Falsettos on Broadway in 1991.
Act One, March of the Falsettos, is set in 1979 and premiered in 1981, but is actually the continuation of an earlier piece by William Finn and his bookwriter James Lapine titled In Trousers which doesn’t however form part of Falsettos, but from which some of the characters spring. Act Two, Falsettoland, though written nearly a decade later, is set two years after the action finishes in Act One.
The story is…well…relentless seems a good word. (Warning, spoiler alert…)
Act One is the story of how Marvin (the superb Daniel Boys), a married man with a young son, Jason (alternating, but played at the performance I saw by the extraordinarily good George Kennedy who I’m guessing must be all of 11 or 12 at most), falls in love with another man, Whizzer (Oliver Savile), leaving his wife, Trina (the incredible Laura Pitt-Pulford), who in turn falls for her husband’s shrink, Mendel (Joel Montague). As Marvin’s world falls apart, and he breaks up with Whizzer, he realises that he can at least console himself that he still has his son, who is having problems and needs not only a shrink, but his father.
Act Two titled Falsettoland, has the addition of Marvin’s lesbian neighbours, hospital doctor Charlotte (Gemma Knight-Jones), and her partner, party-planner and cook Cordelia (Natasha J Barnes). Everyone attends a little-league baseball game to see Jason play, but unknown to Marvin, Jason has asked Whizzer to come along too, and Whizzer and Marvin rekindle their relationship. As plans appear to spiral out of control for Jason’s impending Bar Mitzvah, Whizzer falls ill with what we, as the audience, realise is AIDS. Marvin and Trina are distraught when Jason says he won’t have his Bar mitzvah without Whizzer, but when he compromises, and suggests they should hold it Whizzer’s hospital room, Marvin is finally proud of his son for the decision he takes. Whizzer’s health deteriorates, and he dies.
It might all sound a bit…well…morbid, but I can hardly remember a time I had such a fantastic time in the theatre. The word rollercoaster is used a lot, but it really could have been created for this show. Lapine’s book really shouldn’t work, but does because of the innate humanity with which he imbues his characters. On top of that Finn’s score is exemplary. Every joke lands. Every rhyme is perfect. And the writing is like Stephen Sondheim, but with emotional content.
And then there are the stand-out numbers.
George Kennedy’s reading of ‘My father’s a Homo’ is hilarious beyond his years.
Laura Pitt-Pulford’s take on ‘I’m Breaking Down’ in Act One is worthy of an Olivier.
Daniel Boys Act One closer, ‘Father to Son’, a moment of heartbreaking tenderness.
Joel Montague’s ‘Everyone Hates his Parents’, a riot.
And Oliver Savile’s visceral ‘You Gotta Die Sometime’ had me crying.
I wish I could say that the show is not longer relevant, because things have got better, but the truth is it’s just as important a show as it was when it first aired on Broadway nearly three decades ago, I’m just glad that it’s finally here. It was worth the wait.
- Book by William Finn and James Lapine
- Directed by Tara Overfield-Wilkinson
- Music & Lyrics by William Finn
- Cast includes: Natasha J Barnes, Daniel Boys, Gemma Knight-Jones, Joel Montague, Laura Pitt-Pulford, Oliver Savile, (plus one of the following:) Albert Atack, George Kennedy, Elliot Morris, James Williams
- The Other Palace
- Until 23 November 2019