BWW Review: FALSETTOS National Tour in Chicago
The national tour of the 2016 Broadway revival of FALSETTOS, once again helmed by director James Lapine, has landed in Chicago with a first-rate production and cast. The mighty touring ensemble of seven captures all the neuroses and emotional journeys of the musical's composite "Tight-Knit Family."
With a score by William Finn and a lean, intelligent book by Lapine, FALSETTOS was originally conceived as two musical one-acts set in 1979 and 1981, respectively, and is now combined into one full-length show. The musical follows Marvin (Max von Essen), a man who uproots his family life when he leaves his wife Trina (Eden Espinosa) and his 10-year-old son Jason (played at the performance I saw by Thatcher Jacobs, alternating with Jonah Mussolino) for his lover Whizzer (Nick Adams). In order to deal with this family turmoil, both Marvin and Trina turn to the same psychiatrist Mendel (Nick Blaemire) to work through their issues. Alas, the situation becomes yet more complex when Mendel and Trina develop a romantic relationship. The second act of FALSETTOS introduces Marvin's neighbors, the lesbian couple Dr. Charlotte (Bryonha Marie Parham) and Cordelia (Audrey Cardwell). Though Dr. Charlotte and Cordelia's storyline feels tangential to the piece as a whole, Parham and Cardwell are lovely to watch.
While Marvin's decision in FALSETTOS is no longer a radical one for 2019 audiences, the real genius of the show lies in its ability to capture each character's range of emotions and challenges along the way to acceptance. FALSETTOS shows that self-acceptance and identity development is a lifelong journey. The show also beautifully demonstrates that love and relationships can come in many forms, all enriching (and at times frustrating). As Mendel sings early on, "Love can tell a million stories." Finn's clever lyric becomes a microcosm for the show as a whole, which focuses on a family finding its way back together once it has been split apart.
Finn's score elegantly captures the worries that plague each of the characters, and he does so brilliantly through both music and lyrics. The production's first-rate ensemble makes plain to see just how dazzling FALSETTOS is in its exploration of the full range of human emotions. Because Marvin's decision to pursue a relationship with Whizzer is the show's inciting event, he's a rather flashy role on the page. But Von Essen's performance is subtler and entirely generous towards his fellow performers. Von Essen demonstrates all of Marvin's neuroses and flaws (and his own vocal prowess) without pulling excessive focus onto himself. As a result, this FALSETTOS allows us to focus equally on the emotional turmoil of all the characters.
Marvin's neuroticism is answered by Trina's own struggle to accept the situation at hand. While the songs of FALSETTOS often flow seamlessly from one to another, Espinosa stops the show with "Breaking Down." The song is a masterful portrait of Trina's attempt to hold it all together, until she just can't anymore. Espinosa hits all the highs and lows with ease, and it's a performance I won't soon forget.
Adams essays Whizzer's winsome charm, without ever crossing the line into smarmy. And although Whizzer himself is quite shallow, Adams allows us to see the character's inner depth with his stirring rendition of the 11 o'clock number "You Gotta Die Sometime."
As Mendel, Blaemire demonstrates that even psychiatrists have thoughts and questions that cause them to lie awake at night. Blaemire gives an immensely likable performance that hovers between his assuredness in his professional life and his nervousness in his personal life.
Jacobs is delightful as Jason, proving himself to be quite the professional and talented vocalist while displaying the complicated emotional terrain of a young man whose family life feels rather unstable.
FALSETTOS is a beautiful portrait of what it means to navigate meaningful relationships and determine exactly what it means to love other people. As the musical shows, the journey towards accepting oneself and accepting others is emotional and messy. But it's also often rewarding and worthwhile. FALSETTOS captures all of these complexities, and the national tour cast capitalizes on every touching moment therein.
The Broadway In Chicago engagement of the FALSETTOS national tour runs through June 9 at the Nederlander Theatre, 24 West Randolph. Tickets are $27-$98. BroadwayInChicago.com
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus