Falsettos review radically intimate musical hits the high notes

The story about a father who leaves his wife for a man, and finds himself amid the Aids crisis dates to the 90s, but its psychological truths remain acute

When William Finn and James Lapine debuted Falsettos (a twinning of the earlier one acts March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland) on Broadway in 1992, they couldnt have predicted how quickly it would become a period piece. In its first Broadway revival, again directed by Lapine, its portrayal of a man who leaves his wife for a male lover and the devastation that the Aids virus subsequently inflicts feel like the story of another era, as outmoded as the early 80s fashions. But what remains effortlessly current is the shows lancet-like approach to individual psychology, which reveals the characters at their passionate, neurotic, tender, greedy, bewildered worst and best.

Because the one-acts once numbered three and the first, In Trousers, has never been part of the Broadway package, the action begins in medias res. In March of the Falsettos, Marvin (Christian Borle), a Jewish Upper West Sider, has already divorced his wife, Trina (Stephanie J Block), the mother of his son, Jason (Anthony Rosenthal). Marvin is now living with his lover Whizzer (Andrew Rannels) and still moaning to his psychiatrist, Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz), who is soon to fall in love with Trina. In Falsettoland, the dramatis personae swell slightly with the addition of two lesbians, caterer Cordelia (Betsy Wolfe) and doctor Charlotte (Tracie Thoms).

Perfect pitch: the characters watch Jason (Anthony Rosenthal) play baseball in the second act. Photograph: Joan Marcus

March is perhaps the more interesting half. Nearly every number explores a characters emotional state and the result is a work of often radical intimacy, in which people seem to flay themselves before the audience, warts and wounds and all. As one lyric insists: Play it raw/Dont play it pretty/Sex and games in New York City. Songs mutate from one style to another; musical themes and metaphors attack, retreat and then retaliate. The second act is more conventional, its narrative arc familiar, its characterizations less intense, particularly those of the lesbians. But its here that the works emotional heart beats most muscularly and anyone who leaves without shedding a tear may want to see this or her ophthalmologist.

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 Liffs 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.

Yet Lapine directs in a style that remains both consciously frolicsome and helplessly shrewd. And the years have not dimmed a vision of men and women that exquisitely details all of their faults sometimes in rhymed couplets and believes them worthy of life and love regardless.

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