I’ve heard about the William Finn-James Lapine musical Falsettos for years, but I’d never seen it. So I was happy when I learned that Venice Theatre’s Stage II would be presenting it this season. It’s a first for local stages, and, considering that the original shorter plays on which this production is based date from 1981, it’s about time.
That said, I found the current production, directed by Brad Wages, interesting but not one I fell in love with. Perhaps more familiarity with the score going in (the story is told almost completely in song) would have helped. Initially I was somewhat confused and not particularly engaged by the songs (performed, at least in the first act of the show, at some breakneck speeds, making it hard to decipher the lyrics) or the characters. I did warm to it more in the second act, however.
About those characters…they include the bisexual Marvin (Jason Kimble), who, in the year 1979 is leaving his wife (Gianna Campo) and young son (Eli Schildkraut) because he’s fallen in love with another man, named Whizzer (Kristofer Geddie). Despite that, Marvin still wants to, shall we say, have his cake and eat it, too, for he doesn’t want to be cut off in any way from the family he says he still loves—especially as his son’s bar mitzvah approaches. (It’s important that the family is Jewish here).
Complicating matters is the shrink (Timothy J. Fitzgerald) Marvin turns to for help, especially when said shrink falls for the soon-to-be-ex-wife himself. In the second act, we also meet lesbian lovers Dr. Charlotte (Linda Mounce) and Cordelia (Debbi White), friends and neighbors of Marvin and Whizzer, who become entangled in the family’s lives—especially when a dread new disease (never mentioned by name but clearly AIDS) strikes.
That may sound heavy going, but in the first act, certainly, most of the songs (Four Jews in a Room Bitching, Jason’s Therapy, March of the Falsettos) are primed for laughs, not tears. As the mood turns darker in Act II, we hear more traditional love songs, like What More Can I Say and Unlikely Lovers, that touch the heart.
My appreciation for the performances varied. I found Kimble not particularly compelling as Marvin, although his singing is fine, and I didn’t really see him and Geddie as Whizzer (who postures a bit too much) as a convincing couple. But I liked Campo, Fitzgerald and Schildkraut more; they won me over as people trying to adjust to the situation they face, doing the best they can with unusual circumstances. In the end, Falsettos fans will probably enjoy the show; newcomers may not be quite as enchanted.
Falsettos continues through Jan. 30; for tickets, call 488-1115, or go to venicestage.com.