Great actors can make any material resonate – even if it was written for a different time.
Witness: “Falsettos,” the recent Broadway revival that is showing in theaters this month before a fall premiere on "Live from Lincoln Center" on PBS. Dealing with the AIDS crisis during the 1980s and 1990s, the William Finn musical doesn’t have the urgency it did when it was first played in 1992. But it’s still a relevant piece about the value of relationships.
Co-writer/director James Lapine gets plenty of tears by showing how one family falls apart, another forms and a third evolves. It’s an amazing piece of writing that constantly morphs into something you don’t expect.
A big Tony nominee this past year (it was nominated for Best Revival as well as four acting awards), it soars on the depth of its performers and their incredible voices. Indeed, much of the show seems like the ultimate concept album, populated by the best voices.
Christian Borle plays a man who leaves his wife and son for another man (Andrew Rannells). His wife (Stephanie J. Block) and son (Anthony Rosenthal) visit a psychiatrist (Brandon Uranowitz) and, in short time, the three become another family unit.
Through the boy – who’s about to note his bar mitzvah – the father and lover come back into the fold and find a different kind of familial love. It’s a touching drama fueled by Finn’s quirky songs. Borle and Rannells get great ballads but Block steals the focus with “I’m Breaking Down,” a kitchen lament that allows her to have fun with a kitchen knife, some fresh produce and some very funny lyrics. She’s so well-rounded you can’t help but feel her pain.
While the four leads fully deserved their Tony nominations, young Anthony Rosenthal could have been in the fold, too. He’s able to match his adult co-stars note for note and, yes, get one of those tearful moments when he makes a big decision that affects them all.
Lapine uses a bunch of blocks to create environments but they’re not as user-friendly as they first might have seemed. Sure, there’s the concept of breaking the block apart and then putting it together. But just as much could have been done with realistic set pieces (which happens when the action turns to a hospital room).
The show’s lighting design is more telling. When Rannells and Borle play racquetball, it really does look like they’re on a court. It helps portray Rannells’ illness, too, and sets up some of the more intimate moments.
Strip all of that away, however, and you’d still have those marvelous voices singing those incredible songs.
Block, Rannells and Borle are like the finalists in a competition, belting out numbers with meaning.
In the end, though, it’s the audience who succeeds. “Falsettos” is a fitting reminder love always wins.