REVIEW: Falsettos - 2016 Broadway Cast
It seems hard to believe that the 1992 Tony Award-winning musical Falsettos by William Finn is only now getting a complete cast recording. Beloved by musical theater fans, this sung-through show full of Finn’s idiosyncratic melodies and gorgeous ballads follows the story of Marvin as he leaves his wife Trina and son Jason to be with his male lover Whizzer. Hysterically funny one minute and gut-wrenchingly devastating the next, Falsettos painted a picture of gay Jewish life and atypical family arrangements that continue to resonate today, if not more so, in the age of Modern Family.
Falsettos began as two one-acts: March of the Falsettos, set in 1979, and Falsettoland, which picks up in 1981. Both shows were produced ten years apart off-Broadway before they were joined together for a single two-act evening called Falsettos on Broadway. The show by that time already had cast recordings of its individual acts on DRG Records. Given that three of the main actors — Michael Rupert, Stephen Bogardus, and Chip Zien — stayed with the production through all its incarnations including Broadway, and despite revisions made for the 1992 Broadway production, a new cast album was not recorded. Rather, DRG repackaged their initial albums as a double CD set and that was that. For fans of the shows, those recordings are beloved and contain some iconic performances. Rupert, Bogardus, and Zien are outstanding, as are Alison Fraser as Trina in March of the Falsettos and Faith Prince, who took on the role of Trina in Falsettoland. (Barbara Walsh, who played Trina on Broadway, unfortunately never got to preserve her performance.)
All this brings us to the newly released double-disc, complete recording of the show on Ghostlight Records, and it is an outstanding capture both of the production and the show itself. For starters, it's nice to be able to go on the journey with a uniform cast that doesn’t change halfway through the show. The recording also preserves changes made for the 1992 production as well as a few small updates for this incarnation. It’s particularly exciting to have the song, “I’m Breaking Down,” a comedic tour-de-force first written for Finn’s show In Trousers, recorded here as part of its interpolation in Falsettos. As performed by Stephanie J. Block, this production’s Trina, it’s a knock-out, and the song’s humor detailing of Trina losing her mind over her husband’s newfound gay identity comes across as delightfully on disc as it did on stage.
The entire cast of this production is excellent, full of strong singers and actors whose richly layered performances really come through on this album. Christian Borle heads the cast as Marvin, and if he doesn’t replace Michael Rupert’s original performance, he offers a take on the role that’s both sensitive and heartfelt. Andrew Rannells plays Whizzer, and his rangy tenor belting voice shines on his big numbers “The Games I Play” and “You Gotta Die Sometime.” A particular standout is Anthony Rosenthal, the young actor who plays Jason. His Jason is knowing, nerdy, and quirky, and in many ways he steals the show. Brandon Uranowitz is terrific as Mendel, the psychiatrist who treats Marvin and ends up marrying Trina, his vocal timbre often recalling that of original Mendel, Chip Zien. Finally, Betsy Wolfe and Tracie Thoms are solid as the “lesbians from next door,” who make an appearance in act two. In fact, if there were a Tony Award for best ensemble of a musical, this cast would be a strong contender. Their voices meld well together and clearly feed off of each other’s energies forming the “tight-knit family” that Marvin so desperately wants.
Musically this recording is a delight to listen to. It’s perfectly mixed, and if you get to listen to it on a surround system, you’ll hear a terrific balance of instruments and vocals. And speaking of instruments, the recording uses Michael Starobin’s four-part instrumentation as in the theater (piano, keyboard, percussion, and reeds) and not the beefed-up orchestrations that were done for the earlier albums. I initially thought this might be strike against this recording, but the instrumentation is so clean and perfect as conducted by long-time Finn associate Vadim Feichtner, that it really doesn’t need anything else. The packaging for the album is handsome, featuring the complete lyrics of the show, production stills, and a note from André Bishop and Ira Weitzman who produced both this version at Lincoln Center and the original off-Broadway versions.
Simply put, this is a terrific recording that must be on the shelf of any musical-theater lover. While it doesn’t replace the other DRG one-act recordings which stand solidly in their own right, this recording happily fills the desire for a long-awaited complete recording of this important show.
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Falsettos - 2016 Broadway Cast Falsettoland - 1990 Original Off-Broadway Cast March of the Falsettos - 1981 Original Off-Broadway Cast Falsettoland Falsettos In Trousers March of the Falsettos Vadim Feichtner Tracie Thoms Betsy Wolfe Andrew Rannells Alison Fraser Ira Weitzman André Bishop Brandon Uranowitz Christian Borle Stephanie J. Block Anthony Rosenthal Stephen Bogardus Chip Zien Barbara Walsh Michael Starobin William Finn Michael Rupert Faith Prince You Gotta Die Sometime (4) I'm Breaking Down (3) The Games I Play (3) Toggle Additional (25)