Meet the five Jews who comprise the central “family” in Falsettos: there’s Marvin (Chad Elder), a man who has left his wife Trina (Jenna Kantor) for a much younger male lover Whizzer (Sal Bucci); Marvin’s therapist Mendel (Justin Borak), who falls in love with Trina after Marvin divorces her, and Marvin and Trina’s young son Jason (Matthew Frontz), who – like his mom – is left grappling with the fact that his “father’s a homo.”
The year is 1979: the notion of a “chosen family” is not yet part of the mainstream vocabulary, but these five are trying to figure it out. Marvin, who is a selfish man-child, wants to continue to have a “tight knit family” even though the divorce has turned both Trina and Jason into neurotic messes; he tries to forge that family by including Whizzer in family dinners. But the tenuous balance is upended when Mendel marries Trina and becomes Jason’s new stepdad while Whizzer chafes against Marvin’s competitive power games. By the end of Act 1, Marvin is left alone to look on as his former therapist adopts his family and Whizzer enjoys the freewheeling lifestyle of a single gay man.
Act 2 fast-forwards a couple of years: it’s now 1981, Jason is preparing to celebrate his bar mitzvah, and Marvin and Whizzer reunite. The characters are joined by two new members of the extended family: Dr. Charlotte (Natalie Hatcher) and her lover Cordelia (Lindsay Bayer), who is a “shiksa caterer” trying way too hard to prepare Jewish food for the bar mitzvah (I’ll confess I misheard this lyric as “sexy caterer,” which was more than a little confusing; I have allmusicals.com to thank for clearing up that misunderstanding). Dr. Charlotte is our canary in the coal mine for the disease that is about to upend these characters’ lives: soon the robust and vibrant Whizzer is in hospital, dying of HIV/AIDS. His illness becomes the impetus for the chosen family to reunite, and for both Marvin and Jason to make the transition from boy to man – Marvin, through the crucible of grief, and Jason, through the celebration of his bar mitzvah among his cherished set of three fathers.
Falsettos is an odd musical structurally, its oddness partly explained by the fact that it was originally two one-act musicals – produced individually in 1981 and 1990 – that were knitted together in 1992 for a Broadway production. This explains both the tonal shift from Act 1 to Act 2 as well as the sudden appearance of two new characters after the intermission. The musical is also very fast (and at times almost frantically) paced, and because it’s fully sung through, it takes a lot of energy on the part of both the actors and audience to keep up. Some of the comedic lyrics fly by so fast that it takes a moment to register the joke: laugh too loud or too long, and you’ll miss the next one.
The Front Porch Theatricals ensemble brings verve and vitality to the production, which is directed by Rob James and choreographed by Ashley Harmon. Elder and Kantor anchor the emotional center of the story with conviction and heart; Bucci is winning as a carefree, somewhat catty gay man of the bathhouse era; and Borak and Frontz (who has terrific stage presence for a child actor) make a cute schlubby pair as the neurotic therapist and the introverted adolescent – they are particularly well-matched in the number “Everyone Hates his Parents.” Borak is also the comic star of the show, nailing the Woody Allen-esque combination of nervous insecurity and stubborn intelligence that the role requires. Deana Muro leads a “teeny tiny band” through a range of musical styles with precision and flair, and Johnmichael Bohach’s scenic design – which looks like a concrete foundation abandoned mid-pour – is animated in bright lines of red, blue, green, pink, and white by Andrew David Ostrowski’s lighting design. Costume designer Michelle Nowakowski evokes the late 70s and early 80s in all their cringe-y glory.
Nancy Zionts said: