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Review: FALSETTOS at Richmond Triangle Players Is Transcendent with Love and Pain

Review: FALSETTOS at Richmond Triangle Players Is Transcendent with Love and Pain

It was 1981 when "March of the Falsettos," a one-act musical with songs by William Finn and book by Finn and James Lapine, opened off-Broadway. The hilarious and bitchy story of Marvin, a sharp Jewish New Yorker who left his wife and son for his male lover, was a hot ticket at the time.

It was nearly a decade later that Finn and Lapine delivered a sequel, "Falsettoland," which took Marvin and his loved ones into the early years of the AIDS crisis. Necessarily a more pointed and poignant story, "Falsettoland" showed the ego-driven Marvin as he finally grew up in the face of love and loss.

Soon after, Hartford Stage played the two one-acts back to back, and a year later the shows were revised and blended into "Falsettoland," now on view at Richmond Triangle Players. I've adored Marvin, his lover Whizzer, his wife Trina, his son Jason, and his psychiatrist Mendel since 1981. I remember the original cast with devoted fervor.

How thrilling it is, then, to see the wonderful singer/actors cast by Debra Clinton, the brilliant director of Triangle's production, bring the show to life again. This is a beautiful story that is sung through, with clever lyrics, gorgeous melodies, and challenging rhythms, but the performers triumph.

The first act takes us through the wreckage Marvin has created by exiting his marriage yet insisting that Whizzer be accepted as part of the fractured family. He sends Trina to his longtime shrink, who falls in love with her, causing a traumatic rift.

In the second act it's two years later, and Marvin has been alone, though he's become close with the lesbian couple next door, Dr. Charlotte and Cordelia. Jason is ready for his bar mitzvah; meanwhile, Dr. Charlotte is seeing "bachelors" who enter the hospital for treatment of serious but mysterious maladies.

Matt Shofner plays every color of the maddening Marvin-snide, prideful, loving, sexy, grieving. His singing is spectacular; he makes us feel every wrench as he is forced into a long-delayed adulthood. Durron Marquis Tyre is perfection as Whizzer, who has his own needs and frustrations; his big songs, "The Games I Play" and "You Gotta Die Sometime," are devastating.

Equally perfect is Rowan Sharma as Jason. A natural actor with the intelligence and voice for his character, he absolutely matches his elders in presence and charisma.

Casey Payne's Trina is powerful; she has a big voice and the acting chops to portray a woman breaking out of mid-century female role expectations. Her big numbers-"I'm Breaking Down" and "Holding to the Ground"-are show-stoppers. And Dan Cimo as Mendel sings brilliantly, showing more heart as he grows from self-absorbed psychiatrist to open-hearted family man.

Kelsey Cordrey is a wonderfully self-possessed Dr. Charlotte, and Rachel Marrs does a wonderful turn as the ditzy Cordelia, channeling great love through a smaller role.

Director Clinton orchestrates the complex and rocketing pace of the action with seeming effortlessness, even devising the clever choreography. Her direction veers into the slapstick at times, but she keeps her focus on the characters' human struggles. Natan Berenshteyn's musical direction is excellent despite a few opening-night missteps; his "teeny-tiny" backstage band of three (keyboard, bass and percussion) performs miracles with this difficult score.

Sheila Russ deserves special note for her costumes (the jogging outfits are hilarious), and Jonathan Sparks' sound design is flawless-a must for catching the fast-moving lyrics. While Michael Jarett's lighting is often beautiful, it is not always effective-characters get lost in the dark sometimes. And Kevin Johnson's lackluster set is a bit of a disappointment-bland walls don't add much to the story.

"Falsettos" is an ambitious stretch for Triangle Players, but the company has proven that Finn and Lapine's beloved work is safe in their hands.

"Falsettos" at Richmond Triangle Players' Robert B. Moss Theatre

1300 Altamont Ave.

Through October 5

Tickets $35-$40 or (804) 346-8113

Photo credit: John MacLellan

From This Author - Susan Haubenstock

Susan Haubenstock has written theater criticism since 1989, first for the Stamford (CT) Advocate and then for the Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch. She has an MA in theater from the University of Illinois.... (read more about this author)

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