Despite beginning a gay relationship, leaving his family, and having his wife marry his psychiatrist, Marvin is determined to maintain his tight-knit Jewish family even if it means cold shoulders around the menorah. The final two acts of a one-act musical trilogy combine to tell the story of a not-so-normal family and its not-so-nice head.
Skipping In Trousers, Falsettos jumps straight into William Finn and James Lapine’s March of the Falsettos script with Marvin (Simon Ward) organising a divorce with his wife Trina (Linda Hale) while also attempting to convince his new lover Whizzer (Aleksander Justin) to consider something more monogamous. Trina, in her distress, turns to a psychiatrist, Marvin’s psychiatrist Mendel (Levi Burrows), and ends up falling in love, complicating an already messy situation. Structured like an operetta with every word sung, the first act of the production dedicates a lot of time to introducing the characters and exploring their inner turmoils whereas the second act, Welcome to Falsettoland, is much more plot driven with new characters, Trina and Marvin organising Jason’s (Oscar Langmar) bar mitzvah, and the beginning of the AIDS crisis. While these different rhythms and tones makes sense for a trilogy of one-act musicals, in this configuration Falsettos feels bottom-heavy.
However, Adam Haynes’s direction keeps the operetta style from becoming stilted with plenty of movement and reserved choreography from Melissa Ayers. There were some delightful little added movements like a leapfrog-esque sequence with Trina, Jason, and Mendel getting comfortable on the family couch or silly duets between Jason and Mendel during psychiatry sessions which kept the atmosphere fresh. Other design elements from Josh Stringer for set design and lighting design from Matt Lutz were inventive considering the cliched circumstances of a musical set in New York. The city skyline worked well against a dynamic combination of ombré backdrops and colourful lighting states which made the set feel ever-changing and much larger than it really was. Special attention should be paid to costuming from Rosanna Haynes who subtly captured the everyday aesthetic of 1979-1981 without making anyone feel too dress-up.
The band under musical direction by Alex Ash made admirable use of Finn’s unusual composition, particularly Abi McCunn’s mastering of what appeared to be every reed instrument available. They provided excellent support to the cast’s extraordinary voices. Hale was outstanding for her combination of a huge voice and wonderfully engaging characterisation. Her rendition of “I’m Breaking Down” as Trina losing control of herself while preparing a hodge-podge meal was worth the price of admission alone. At the same time, Justin was a surprising stand-out in his two solos, both heartbreakers, “The Games I Play” and “You Gotta Die Sometime” which showed off impressive range and control.
Langmar shows himself to be a star on the rise with plenty of room to grow into bigger roles while Burrows provides a gentler, counter-tone to the belters and gives the production an authentic enthusiasm. As a cast, they all give accomplished performances with a strong sense of camaraderie that intensifies the downward spiral of the second act as Whizzer is hospitalised and the AIDS crisis comes into focus.
As a newer company representing Western Sydney, Theatre & Company have demonstrated themselves to be an impressive team with this complex production both in terms of structure and content.
Falsettos is running at Riverside Theatre from March 6th – 14th as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras