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April 18, 2019

Falsettos Does Set Oh So Typical Standards.

by Patrick Hurley

By Patrick Hurley

Photo by Joan Marcus

In the pantheon of Musical theater, where originality has been ebbing farther and farther away from the reboot, remake, revival culture that is Broadway- we find ourselves, quite inexplicably, stranded on the nearly three-hour island that is Falsettos, playing now at the Ahmanson.

Met with fervor and fanfare, this revival proved to be, according to the New York Times, “Vital, fresh, and startling.” There are two questions one can ponder after seeing the same show that Charles Isherwood said nearly achieves “perfection,” and those are: 1, Was the cast of the Broadway production magical unicorns able to transcend the material to such heights that everyone in the audience was struck incapable of critical thought or dramaturgical skills?  Or 2, is theater actually on its last leg as to pander to such a specific audience that everyone else has to just feel alienated? The answer is probably going to prove to be a little bit of both. Before adding anything else to this, it should be said that the entire cast is at the top of their game, and none of them are to blame for any of the show’s shortcomings. Likewise, scenic designer David Rockwell does a superb job of creating a building-block world that heightens the theatricality, and should have kept the show moving quickly, but unfortunately, the verbose Sondheim-lite style lyrics and circular narrative bog us down in repetition more than anything else.

Photo by Joan Marcus

First off, the story of Falsetto’s is a pretty straightforward one that ends up way more convoluted than it should. Marvin (Max Von Essen) is married to Trina (Eden Espinosa), and they have a son named Jason (Thatcher Jacobs/Jonah Mussolino swap the role at various performances). Marvin falls in love with Whizzer (Nick Adams) and leaves his family to be with him. Trina then starts seeing Marvin’s psychiatrist Mendel (Nick Blaemire), and then they fall in love and end up together. Okay, so Marvin decides he’s gay and comes out of the closet, which causes stress for his young son and ex-wife. It causes so much stress for Trina, in fact, that most of the songs in Act One deal with her difficulty in overcoming it. The man he falls in love with, Whizzer, is a handsome narcissist that provides Marvin with physical pleasure, thus further perpetuating the idea that homosexuals are driven by sex. This is also the only real revelation about their relationship. Marvin likes Whizzer’s body. Other than that, they’re pretty unhappy together. So much so, that they break up at the end of Act One.

Photo by Joan Marcus

The story stalls about ten minutes into the first act, and stays there until the last ten minutes. The engine of the piece is an engine on idle for well over an hour. We see that love is hard, but love is great, and no one will ever understand love. We see this in at least two thirds of the songs. By the time Trina sings “I’m Breaking Down,” which is definitely a musical highlight of the show, we’re already kind of exhausted on this point, and we want more character development and more stakes, and more action. But instead, the remainder of Act One gives us sentiment and plenty of it. And the scene where Marvin slaps Trina in the face….What?! A desperate attempt for tension turns out to just be an incongruous moment that is never again addressed.

Act Two brings Marvin and Whizzer back together, because they need a cathartic ending for the AIDS subplot that’s about to happen. Jason doesn’t want to have his Bar Mitzvah, probably because of his broken family, and his dad’s new boyfriend, who he has become very close to, can’t be there because of the aforementioned AIDS subplot, and Mendel and Trina are together but starting to get annoyed by the other, because for the characters in this show, love is always annoying.  Oh yeah, and a lesbian couple moves in next door, Cordelia (Audrey Cardwell) and Dr. Charlotte (Bryonha Marie Parham). Why? Diversity, of course. And also, Charlotte is Whizzer’s doctor, so she can deliver the bad news to Marvin. All of this is meant to show that love is unexpected and irrational and fleeting. But what the show fails to do is earn anything it does. This show sets a standard that might be an answer to my second question. Theater has a niche audience, and absent huge spectacle were left with given circumstances having to be enough. The given circumstances for this show, like so many others, are only relatable to people who see themselves reflected in the thinly drawn characters. And it really only hints at something more.

Suggesting something is not the same as developing it. And using sentiment to evoke an audience is way too easy. Anyone can kill a character and have someone else sing a sad song about that character. It’s an easy out. It whittles the experience and the expression of humanity down to an unpalatable size, and is meant to trick an audience into remembering their own experiences, because the show has failed to capture one of its own. This entire production moves at a glacial pace, throwing more and more puerile storytelling devices on top of a mound of saccharine until all that’s left is cheap sentiment.


Falsettos

Directed by James Lapine

Opens Wednesday, April 17 at 8 p.m. Through May 19, 2019

Run Time and Intermission: 2 hours, 35 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

Ticket Prices: $30 – $145 (Ticket prices are subject to change.)

Tickets are available Online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org. By calling Center Theatre Group Audience Services at 213.972.4400.  In person at the Center Theatre Group Box Office at The Music Center Group Sales: 213.972.7231 Deaf community information and charge: visit CenterTheatreGroup.org/ACCESS.

Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre At The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012.

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Patrick Hurley

Writes. Plays. TV. Film.

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