I used to say that everything I need to know in life I learned from Star Trek. With rare exception, I would say that still holds true. However, as I sat weeping into my lightly buttered AMC popcorn watching the Live at Lincoln Center production of “Falsettos” on the big screen, I realized have one other source of developmental inspiration: William Finn.
“March of the Falsettos” and “Falsettoland,” the two one-act operettas that eventually became the full-length broadway show “Falsettos,” normalized my desire to love men, taught me to build an extended family from friends, and that my Jewishness, neuroses, sexuality, and passion were all okay.
The show has been with an active part of my life for years. In high school, I’d listen to it constantly, much to the chagrin of my parents. “Four Jews in a Room Bitching” seemed to hit a little too close to home. In college, one of the student directors at Illinois Wesleyan cast me in “Falsettoland.” Who did I play? Well, Jason, of course. I did receive the “Child Actor of the Department” award, after all. And “Four Unlikely Lovers” was a part of a cabaret with four great friends while I was living in Minneapolis.
The performances in the Lincoln Center production were nothing short of stellar. At the top of their game were Christian Borle (Marvin) and Stephanie J. Block (Trina). Her journey for Trina from unstable divorcee to a strong independent woman making her own choices was delicately sculpted with equal parts bawdy slapstick and subtle stoicism. Borle, the true heart of the piece, brought an almost cinematic truth to Marvin’s arc and his often motionless moments of power and discovery let the language and love permeate the room.
The surprise to me was Brandon Uranowitz. Mendel has always struck me as a bit of a whiner, with a little heart and a lot of problems. I loved the recording of Chip Zien for that reason. But Uranowitz demonstrated so much depth in a potentially one-note character that he almost stole the show from Borle.
The set, staging, lighting, and minimal use of props and furniture kept the pace of the show crisp and tight. An artistic shift from abstract shapes becoming furniture to the use of a practical hospital bed and chairs was a beautiful expression of the encroaching reality of a deadly virus no one at that time knew how to handle. The entire production was exquisite from start to finish.
As I reflect on the Reagan administration that put our community at risk by their irresponsible delay in acknowledging the AIDS crisis, and the current administration that threatens to unravel the strides made in LGBT rights and protections made since that time, the importance of this piece still resonates deeply. As the cast themselves stated during a pre-show promotion for Broadway Cares, in these uncertain times, “lets be scared together.”