Sunday, June 2, 2019

Review of Falsettos (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Falsettos. The music and lyrics were by William Finn and the book was by Finn and James Lapine. It was choreographed by Spencer Liff and directed by Lapine. It was about a family in the 1970s and early 80s who are dealing with the effects of Marvin (Max von Essen), the father, leaving his wife, Trina (Eden Espinosa), and his son, Jason (Thatcher Jacobs when I saw it), for his boyfriend Whizzer (Nick Adams). As the family falls apart he sees a psychiatrist, Mendel (Nick Blaemire), who eventually falls in love with Trina. It is about family, love, and acceptance. I think this is a powerful story and an amazing musical. I already loved this musical before I saw it, and the cast in several cases even exceeded my expectations. It was great!

The relationship between Whizzer and Marvin is very complicated because you really see how much they love each other but you can also see how toxic their relationship is, especially at the start of the play. Their first song together is "Thrill of First Love," where they are yelling at each other about various things that they don't like about each other. It shows that just because you come out of the closet, it doesn't mean you are going to be happy all they time. Gay relationships aren't perfect just because people finally have the right to love each other. Later in the show, Whizzer sings a song called "The Games I Play" reflecting on his past relationships. He basically says, "I know I do all these things I know aren't good for me or the people I'm with, but I do them anyway." He realizes he is a sex object, which we knew from "Thrill of First Love," when Marvin says, "I was rich, he was horny, he fit like a glove." He is coming to terms with so many things that he may have already known, but he just accepted that was his place in the world because that is the way every man he'd ever been with had treated him. Whizzer's next solo, "You Gotta Die Sometime," after he's been hospitalized, was absolutely gorgeous. He seemed so desperate and scared, which is something you haven't seen from Whizzer before because he's been so confident and cocky. It makes it extremely alarming to see him so scared. I thought that it was an absolutely heart-wrenching song. It is one of my favorites, and I thought it was amazingly performed here. The relationship between Marvin and Whizzer does get better the second time around because they both realize what they did wrong and how they really needed each other and made each other better people. After this relationship has started becoming something really meaningful, Whizzer is hospitalized. It makes every song where they are still falling in love with each other more heartbreaking because you see that they finally found each other again and were happy and something had to go wrong. The play does a good job of showing how terrible the relationship is, getting rid of it, and then showing how what they did wrong could be done right. This makes the fear that both of them have about losing each other more heartbreaking to watch.

Thatcher Jacobs played Jason phenomenally. He brought this angst to this role which is written into the role but doesn't always come across as clearly as it did in his portrayal. He seemed like a sad 40-year-old, not like a cranky 10-year-old, which is in keeping with how weird the adults find him. He was very sad, and rationally so. He is a very complex character and you could feel every emotion he was experiencing. It was such masterful acting. We also see him turn into a teenager, although he often acts more mature than a teenager would. In "Miracle of Judaism," he talks about what girls he wants to invite to his Bar Mitzvah. He talks about all the things he likes about them and how he thinks he shouldn't like the women that he does. He sings a reprise, "Another Miracle of Judaism," where he is instead asking God to keep Whizzer from dying. Throughout the play, he has become closer to Whizzer. The play is about how family doesn't have to always be blood relatives. At the Bar Mitzvah, Mendel (who is now his stepfather) calls Jason "son of Marvin, son of Trina, son of Whizzer, son of Mendel, and godchild to the lesbians next door," Dr. Charlotte (Bryonha Marie Parham) and Cordelia (Audrey Caldwell). That seems to me to be the real miracle, that all these different people become a family, and Jason realizes that, which shows how much he's grown. I also really loved the relationship between Mendel and Jason because there is no specific power dynamic even though he is his stepfather. They just seem to love being together. You really see this in "Everyone Hates His Parents" and "Feel Alright" which are both songs that essentially say things will be better if you act like a human instead of worrying about things. During both of these songs they are dancing around, and Jason is being flipped around, and they are jumping off things and breaking things, and it is adorable.

Trina has a song where she sings about how she is "tired of all the happy men who rule the world, all the stupid, childish men who rule the world." This is followed by "March of the Falsettos," which seems to be Trina's view of the men around her; they are acting ridiculous, like toddlers, and running around in these little outfits with high pitched voices. I think this is a very relatable song for me and I like that they include the woman's perspective even though less than half the cast is female, and in act one Trina is the only woman. This show is written by two men and directed by one of them, which makes me happy to see the woman's opinion and feelings being represented in realistic ways. This show represents so many different stories at an important time in history, and I think it means a lot to a lot of different people for many different reasons. I think that is what makes this show so important and beautiful. Some plays follow one person's journey, but this play somehow manages to follow several different people's storylines in a way that is specific enough that you grow to love each of them.

People who would like this show are people who like important musicals that make you love every character, complex child characters, and brilliantly heartbreaking and frank laments. I absolutely loved this show. It is an amazing story. It is beautifully acted, and this is a gorgeous musical.

Photos: Joan Marcus

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