For the Rep Stage’s final production, artistic director Joseph W. Ritsch stages a crisp, neon-lit production of a musical featured in the company’s first season, 29 years ago: William Finn and James Lapine’s Tony-winning Falsettos (★★★☆☆).
Having provided DMV theatergoers — and the region’s working talent — an adventurous, LGBTQ-led arts and entertainment outpost in Howard County these many years, Rep Stage goes out with a show conveying the galvanizing point that everyone walks through this world both on their own and inextricably connected to whatever circle of love enfolds them.
In Falsettos, that circle includes family and community. And the larger point of connection applies not just to the characters who sing us through two trying years in the lives of Marvin, Whizzer, Trina, Jason, Mendel, Charlotte, and Cordelia.
But the company of performers, each on their own landing somewhere between fine to fantastic with their portrayals, together create a compelling makeshift family of gay Jewish dad Marvin (Jake Loewenthal), his ex Trina (Sarah Corey), lover Whizzer (Davon Williams), son Jason (Grayden Goldman), and Trina’s new guy Mendel (Michael Perrie, Jr.).
Where any falter, their castmates lift them up, as might the audience should any miss a note (or a few notes) of Finn’s pithy, sung-through score.
Never missing a note, in her charismatic solo numbers, nor in the tricky characterization of a woman blindsided by her husband’s coming out, circa 1979, Corey’s Trina gets her story across with clarity and engaging humor. Her smiling-through-disaster “I’m Breaking Down” is a masterpiece of well-choreographed comic tension.
In Mendel, Marvin’s psychiatrist, Trina finds not only a new beau but a harmonic comedic complement, as Perrie’s jovial, if not entirely ethical, doc pairs swimmingly with Corey. Perrie’s timing, at times, steals scenes, abetted by Finn and Lapine’s script, which lets Mendel off the hook for swooping in on his patient’s ex-wife — and kid, more or less, since Mendel becomes very involved in Jason’s life.
As the reasonably apoplectic kid of divorce, Grayden Goldman, fresh off playing Young Charlie in Olney’s Kinky Boots, makes Jason amusingly moody.
And, though his vocal transitions from full-voice into falsetto will, no doubt, improve, he and Loewenthal effectively forge an affecting father-son relationship for Jason and Marvin that’s deepened by the added dynamic of Jason’s affection for Whizzer.
It’s Whizzer and Marvin whose relationship feels too surface, though Williams is utterly appealing in the role of the free-spirited second “wife” for whom doom awaits. First-act Whizzer and Marvin are meant to be struggling as a couple, questioning whether the electricity that brought them together has fizzled. But their bickering bears little residue of that old passion.
Oddly, the show’s lighting gets a bit in their way. To accentuate Daniel Ettinger’s evocative set, dominated by a row of doors opening to myriad possibilities, the lighting, by Conor Mulligan, beautifully lines the frames and silhouetted New York skyline above.
But, while Mulligan’s overhead spotlights add to the atmosphere, they often also obscure the eyes and expressions of the actors, particularly Loewenthal, whose floppy ‘do as Marvin casts a shadow over his emotive performance.
A fine singer, in any case, Loewenthal reaches us through Marvin’s songs, as the neurotic New Yorker struggles to hold his family together, and supports Whizzer through the horrors of an AIDS diagnosis in 1981.
The temperature around many of the musical’s hot topics has eased since its Broadway debut in 1992, thanks in part precisely to Falsettos and shows like it.
Meanwhile, the temperature’s steadily rising on issues that seemed settled 30 years ago, a heady reminder not to take for granted, and to champion while they’re here, those artists and companies who raise their voices to make a better world.
Falsettos runs through May 14 at Rep Stage, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia, MD. Tickets are $40, with discount options available. Call 443-518-1500, or visit www.repstage.org.
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