Since its Broadway debut in 1992, Falsettos has been hailed as a moving love story and a profound exploration of masculinity and sexuality. The 2016 Broadway revival continued to garner great reviews and awards nominations, and now it’s getting a national tour.
Sadly, the tour just can’t capture the spark that made the show sing on Broadway, despite maintaining James Lapine and Spencer Liff’s inventive staging and choreography, as well as David Rockwell’s simple yet powerful block-based set design. The themes of the show largely deal with boys becoming men, and the use of building blocks to construct the set creates a literal playground for the characters to enact this journey of discovery. The design is inspired and allows the playing space to veer from whimsical to precarious as needed.
Falsettos follows the story of Marvin (Max Von Essen), a man who leaves his wife, Trina (Eden Espinosa), and son, Jason (Thatcher Jacobs), for his lover, Whizzer (Nick Adams). Trina promptly falls in love with Marvin’s psychiatrist, Mendel (Nick Blaemire), which further complicates their “tight-knit family.”
The musical is composed of two plays that were rewritten and pieced together to make Falsettos, and the disjointed nature of the production makes it feel like two separate works smushed together. The material requires a truly incredible cast, and this ensemble, despite admirable efforts, isn’t quite able to smooth over the story’s more stilted aspects. The second act is by far the stronger half, veering away from the family dysfunction that drags on far too long in Act 1 and tackling questions of maturity and love against the backdrop of the beginnings of the AIDs crisis.
Many of the performances feel one-note. While Espinosa is hilarious in Trina’s more manic moments, particularly on the standout number “I’m Breaking Down,” we don’t get enough of her core, and the depths of her frustrations with emotionally stunted men aren’t fully explored. The material seemingly leaves space for it, but Espinosa doesn’t dig deep enough.
Von Essen’s voice is stellar, but his Marvin is bland. He’s surrounded by bigger, wackier personalities but never manages to make Marvin the relatable center he needs to be. Von Essen does shine in his quieter moments on ballads “Father to Son” and “What More Can I Say,” using the musical soliloquies to tap into the sense of confusion, loss, and love that makes this character tick. The deeper feeling at play in these moments comes off as warm and touching, in contrast to his more staid performance elsewhere.
Jacobs nearly runs away with the whole show as young son Jason. He’s vibrant, and his pointed wit, which seems beyond his years, makes him the most dynamic performer on the stage. His youth lends him an authenticity that makes his scenes feel the most palpably alive, effortlessly blending humor and pathos as each moment requires.
While Marvin may be the impetus for the drama, the show’s beating heart is Whizzer, and Adams pulls the story to its heartbreaking conclusion with aplomb. His Whizzer is at turns cocksure, wry, bitchy, kind, and devastating. Everyone on stage has a lot of love to give, but Adams makes Whizzer the most emotionally vulnerable of them all. He bears the most direct brunt of the show’s handling of the AIDs crisis, and he transforms his strapping physicality from Act 1 into a shell of himself, all with a few costume pieces and his deft acting choices.
As the second act delves further into how our families aren’t always the tight-knit version in one of the opening numbers but something more alive and ever-changing, it gets at something more profound. The ending is a kick-you-in-the-guts conclusion, one that feels both inevitable and unbearably sad — and it’s the strength of two journeys, those of Whizzer and Marvin’s relationship and of Jason’s maturity, that helps propel it to a strong finish. Longing, regret, religion — they all get plumbed in the back half of a show that is ultimately about love, in all its forms, being the greatest source of growth.
This touring production is a strong attempt at a text that feels like a high wire to navigate, and often the ensemble falters while walking that wire. Yet, so much of a show is contingent on its ending — how much what it has to say stays with you in its final moments. The powerful and romantic exchange on Marvin and Whizzer’s final number, “What Would I Do?” is a heartbreaking note to end on, one that both affirms the power of love and gets at something indescribable in the devastation of loss. It’s almost enough to undo some of the duller, more uninspired moments. The production moves along with fits and starts, but in the end, it sticks the landing. B
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