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Review Roundup: FALSETTOS Opens on Broadway

The Lincoln Center Theater production of the Tony Award-winning musical Falsettos officially opens tonight at the Walter Kerr Theatre (219 West 48th Street). William Finn and James Lapine's beloved musical is the story of the charming, neurotic Marvin, who struggles to find an unconventional and loving extended family after leaving his wife and son for his lover, Whizzer.

The revival is produced in association with Jujamcyn Theaters and features Stephanie J. Block (as Trina), Christian Borle (as Marvin), Andrew Rannells (as Whizzer), Anthony Rosenthal (as Jason), Tracie Thoms (as Dr. Charlotte), Brandon Uranowitz (as Mendel), and Betsy Wolfe (as Cordelia).

Let's see what the critics have to say:

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: There's hardly a moment in the exhilarating, devastating revival of the musical "Falsettos" that doesn't approach, or even achieve, perfection. This singular show, about an unorthodox family grappling with the complexities of, well, just being a family - unorthodox or otherwise - has been restored to life, some 25 years after it was first produced, with such vitality that it feels as fresh and startling as it did back in 1992. The achievement seems almost miraculous, because in the intervening years, America has gone through cultural changes that might, in theory, have made the show, with its sweet-and-sour score by William Finn, and its economical book by Mr. Finn and James Lapine, seem a relic.

Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: Lapine serves as director for the terrific new Broadway revival of Falsettos that, through more lyric revisions and interpretations that provide a greater unity of tone, finally fuse the two acts into a singular piece of romance, wit, jaunty melodies and realistic characters trying to keep their neuroses in check.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: The warm performances of a terrific cast soften the underlying sadness of Finn's breakthrough musical about a nebbish named Marvin (an endearing performance from Christian Borle) who leaves his loving wife, Trina (Stephanie J. Block, dynamite), and young son (Anthony Rosenthal, blessedly unaffected) for a male lover with the improbable name of Whizzer (Andrew Rannells, irresistible to all sexes).

Matt Windman, amNY: Lapine's production is energetic, finely textured and extremely well-cast. Visually, it is built around a novel scenic design (by David Rockwell) in which a giant cube is pulled apart to reveal building blocks that suggest various settings. Borle (who will star as Willy Wonka later this season in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") captures Marvin's emotional journey from combative egotist to supportive father and lover. The cast scores vocally, comically and dramatically, bringing out the manic heights and tender pauses of this truly extraordinary musical.

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: A family oriented musical about one kid and a half-dozen adults becoming fully realized humans, "Falsettos" is grounded in ideas that came before gay liberation or AIDS. Is there a theme more universal than the mystery of why some people fall in love? This eloquent take bridges age and cultural boundaries and is as timeless as they come.

David Finkle, The Huffington Post: How does Falsettos look nearly 25 years on? Just great--with only the merest reservations that certainly don't have anything to do with the several brilliant Finn songs. They begin with the outrageous (particularly in Jennifer Caprio's Biblical costumes) opening number, "Four Jews in a Room Bitching" and include Trina's "I'm Breaking Down," Marvin's "What More Can I Say?" and Whizzer's "The Games I Play."

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: Not because this revival isn't terrific - it is, mostly. It's got tons of heart, unimpeachable performances by a cast of seven including the best kid actor since Fun Home's Sydney Lucas. But while the production - staged by James Lapine, who also wrote the book for the show, scored by William Finn (both won Tonys for their work) - left me teary in all the right places, and laughing in all the other right places, it never actually took flight. It's earthbound.

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: "It's about time, don't you think?" sings Marvin (Christian Borle) at the outset of the second act of Falsettos, and yes: It is. It's about time that William Finn and James Lapine's intimate, obstinate, heart-shattering 1992 musical has returned to Broadway, to poke us and amuse us and reduce us again to helpless tears. Few musicals have the range, idiosyncrasy and emotional punch of this profoundly unconventional and personal work. Directed by Lapine, the show's revival is very much about a specific Jewish family in the early 1980s, and while its story of a man who leaves his wife and child for a male lover may be less novel today, its larger truths continue to resonate. Seeing Falsettos now is like opening a time capsule and finding a mirror.

Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal: Notwithstanding Mr. Finn's inability to write once-heard-never-forgotten tunes, the musical numbers are cleverly crafted and the overall tone is appropriately tart, this being a show in which no one is very likable. (The title of the first song, "Four Jews in a Room Bitching," sums up "March of the Falsettos" pretty comprehensively.) In "Falsettoland," by contrast, a hideously painful situation is portrayed with a sincere but cloying sentimentality that occasionally curdles into kitsch. If you're old enough to have witnessed the AIDS epidemic at first hand, the second act of "Falsettos" might just make you cry in spite of yourself. If not...well, it probably won't.

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: Some of the individual moments of this Lincoln Center production are fantastic - Block, who is so well cast here and doing the best work of her Broadway career, does everything you could ask with the show's great, reflective ballads. You are never entirely convinced that Borle and Rannells are deeply in love, partly because Rannells does not sufficiently communicate the confidence that comes from being desired, but both these charming actors have moments that delight. The show centers on men in its structure, but the women in this cast all are so strong that you sense a realignment from 25 years ago.

Jesse Green, Vulture: If this Lincoln Center Theater production, directed (like all the earlier New York incarnations) by Lapine, has any serious faults, they arise from that agenda. As written, Marvin is so nasty and erratic in the first act that the plot, which depends on so many people wanting his love, won't turn. Christian Borle can't resolve that contradiction and thus comes off a bit unsteady, at least until he regains his footing in the second act. The other principals, whose roles are more tightly written, are excellent throughout: Andrew Rannells delivering a super-high-gloss Whizzer without reducing him to a boytoy; Stephanie J. Block deftly coloring in Trina's insecurity (and stopping the show with "I'm Breaking Down"); Brandon Uranowitz offering an unusually sexy Mendel; and Anthony Rosenthal making a crazy-confident Broadway debut as a sweet but not too-sweet Jason. (In the second half, Tracie Thoms and Betsy Wolfe are lovely as "the lesbians from next door.") .

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: The Broadway revival is not a copy of the original - some lyrics have changed, some emphases. Neither is it a faultless work. The set, by David Rockwell, with its chintzy cutouts of the Manhattan skyline and peculiar cube of furniture, is one of the ugliest to galumph onto the stage in recent years. Spencer Liff's choreography has some spry moments, like a dance that draws on bullfighting and Greco-Roman wrestling, but at other times seems oddly reticent. And while Borle is not precisely miscast, the role only rarely allows him to display his great strengths - his madcap comic verve, his brassy tenor. Other actors are better suited, particularly Uranowitz, who delivers a superb Mendel.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: This is a true and unflinching study of relationships and humanity in all their shades. Its scale may be small-just seven characters, no fancy sets-but its emotion and power are epic, and that is written without exaggeration. When the lights come up all too quickly at the intermission and then at the end, you will-at least those without hearts of stone-be wiping away tears.

Linda Winer, Newsday: Although it's hard to separate these characters from the original actors, the cast is terrific. Borle brings out more of Marvin's "want it all" selfishness and Rannells is more of a hunk. Lapine's direction is finely calibrated to be showy without being show-bizzy and, though David Rockwell's modular foam set pieces and silhouetted Manhattan skyline can get a bit monotonous, they support the passion by getting out of the play's powerful way.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: In fact, pretty much everything about Lincoln Center Theater's ideally cast Broadway revival, again directed by Lapine with as much humor as sensitivity, makes it pure pleasure. The musical is firmly knotted to its era, unfolding first in 1979, as New Yorker Marvin (Christian Borle) bails on his wife Trina (Stephanie J. Block) and son Jason (Anthony Rosenthal) to move in with his gay lover, Whizzer (Andrew Rannells); it then jumps forward to 1981, the dawn of the AIDS crisis, chronicling how this nontraditional family unit has expanded and then how it gets clobbered by the devastating reality of the time. But the characters are so fresh, the writing so emotionally insightful and the situations played with such feeling that Falsettos hasn't aged a day.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: It's very unlikely that William Finn will ever get a better production of his groundbreaking musical "Falsettos" than the revival that opened Monday at the Walter Kerr Theatre. Top among its assets are leading men Christian Borle and Andrew Rannells, who play the not-always-well-matched lovers Marvin and Whizzer.

Melissa Rose Bernardo, Entertainment Weekly: There's no shortage of laughs, from tuneful one-liners (Jason: "My father's a homo, my mother's not thrilled at all") to entire numbers (a knife-wielding Trina cracks up with a cutting board in "I'm Breaking Down"). And act two's "The Baseball Game" - "We're watching Jewish boys who cannot play baseball play baseball," the company sings as Jason haplessly swings - is a work of lyrical comic genius. Bonus points for the Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg references.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Finn's alternately lighthearted and poignant score in this mostly sung-through show is another major asset. While things get a bit heavy-handed as one man's life ends while another begins at a bar mitzvah, it's hard to grouse when you're being moved to tears. There are plenty of those - laughs, too - thanks to the uniformly wonderful cast. Borle, a two-time Tony winner, is very affecting as Marvin comes out and, finally, comes of age. Rannells, of "Girls," brings swagger and sweetness to the pragmatic Whizzer. Block is blessed with a couple of the show's best songs - "I'm Breaking Down" and "Holding to the Ground" - and does them proud. Both are stuck in my head. Even the scenery is eloquent in its own way. A huge gray Rubik's Cube-like set piece underscores the idea that the world is puzzling. Fitting since Trina sings: "Life is never what you planned." Plan on being deeply touched and richly satisfied at this show.

Peter Marks, The Washington Post: But what this erratic revival, which had its official opening Thursday night at the Walter Kerr Theatre, doesn't possess much of is the ecstatic brand of New York neurosis that should fire the pistons of this anxiety-infused show. It's as if Marvin - the solipsistic manchild who wants his embittered ex-wife and son to welcome his gay lover Whizzer into an awkward family detente - never had to seriously consider a round of head-shrinking. So when Borle's Marvin does plop himself down in the office of his longtime therapist, Mendel, (Brandon Uranowitz), your first thought may be: "Is this really necessary?"

Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: The sniffles you hear in the audience are prompted not just by what's happening to the characters, but by two of Finn's loveliest, most soul-stirring songs, "Unlikely Lovers" and "What Would I Do?" Directed with great empathy by James Lapine, who co-wrote the show's book with Finn, "Falsettos" achieves the same power it had a quarter-century ago.

Christopher Kelly, NJ.com: There are a handful of take-your-breath-away numbers in the new revival of the musical "Falsettos," now playing at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway, but none quite so impressive as "I'm Breaking Down," a comic wail of despair sung by Stephanie J. Block. Playing Trina, whose husband Marvin (Christian Borle) has just left her for a man with the curious name of Whizzer (Andrew Rannells), Block manages to draw out both the comedy and anguish of this woman's unusual plight - sung all the while she's ostensibly making dinner. ("Let me turn on the gas / I saw them in the den / with Marvin grabbing Whizzer's ass.") Block sends the show to such dizzying heights that it takes the audience a few minutes to recover.

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