Selladoor Productions, producers of 9 to 5 The Musical, Big Fish, American Idiot and Avenue Q, bring Falsettos to London for the very first time serving as a timely reminder that love really is the most beautiful thing in the world.
William Finn premiered his one-act musical In Trousers off Broadway in 1979, the year when the action here begins. Two years later Finn, collaborating with James Lapine, created two additional 1-act pieces: March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland, exploring the lives of Marvin, his family and friends. These premiered off Broadway in 1982 and 1990 respectively. March of the Falsettos played at the Albery Theatre in London’s West End in 1987 and this is the first time that the whole Marvin trilogy has been staged in the UK, here it is performed at The Other Palace, Victoria.
The title of Finn’s smart opening number is Four Jews in a Room Bitching and that’s exactly what we get! It’s high-spirited, up front and out there. The Jews in question are Marvin (Daniel Boys), who has finally pursued his true sexuality by leaving his wife for younger, cooler Whizzer (Oliver Savile). Then there’s his ex-wife Trina (Laura Pitt-Pulford) and their shrink Mendel (Joel Montague – kudos to Joel who came in last minute after the original cast member dropped out), plus 12-year-old Jason who, as all nice Jewish boys do, is coming face-to-face with his bar mitzvah.
Sung-through, Finn’s music shines with the joyous neurosis of his writing present at all times. With that said, and much as I love Finn’s music, I needed a little less of it as I found myself feeling a little melodically exhausted at points and wondered whether some of the finer points of Marvin’s journey may have benefitted from the freedom of exploration without accompaniment, especially when written alongside the great Lapine.
On first impression, PJ McEvoy’s design appears simple, but objects are often being moved around the stage by the hardworking cast to create a variety of set-ups. There were some clunky transitions, but I’m sure these will be smoothed over as the run continues. Block colours and simple patterns on costumes continue the simple but effective design.
The cast – and the writing – are all utterly sincere but, despite abundant good intentions, it just feels effortful and quite long (2hrs 40). There are areas I wish had been further developed, but is worth seeing for the strong voices on show and the beauty of William Finn’s melodies.
Falsettos The Musical
The Other Palace
12 Palace Street
In the second act, two (underwritten and underused) women arrive – “the lesbians next door”. The show is taken up a notch in the second act with the arrival of the superb Natasha J Barnes and Gemma Knight-Jones, who play the family’s lesbian neighbours. Their characters lift the piece – it’s perhaps a shame we don’t meet them earlier on.
Everyone obsessively examines themselves – and each other – falling in and out of love, with the stakes climbing as the bar mitzvah approaches until, in the second act in 1981, Whizzer falls unexpectedly ill with a mysterious disease that we, with hindsight, know all about. The show was created under the spectre of the AIDS crisis, and the second act becomes far more delicate; the lyrics really have heart and feeling and emotional scenes unfold. Great performances by Whizzer (Oliver Savile)- he is intricate; he charms during the first act, but during the second his performance is utterly heartbreaking. Savile proves himself as someone we should all have our eye on.
The funniest number for me, The Baseball Game, wittily punches up the absurdity as everyone watches Jason attempting sport. This is almost the only moment that feels rooted in New York, thanks to wandering accents and a placeless, hyper-childlike design complete with over-energetic, highly coloured lighting