Falsettos: Musical Review

Rating: 3

By Richard Barber

William Finn premiered his one-act musical, In Trousers, off-Broadway in 1979. It followed the story of New Yorker Marvin as he contemplates leaving his wife, Trina, and 10-year-old son, Jason, for another man.

Finn subsequently teamed up with James Lapine on two additional one-act plays, March of the Falsettos and  Falsettoland, seen in 1982 and 1990 respectively, the latter featuring the same characters as the spectre of AIDS first looms over the gay community. 

The three together are known as the Marvin Trilogy but we only get the second two in this London premiere of Falsettos. The slightly complicated gestation period is relevant because we’re pitched into a story at the equivalent of Chapter 2 and it’s a bit confusing. What’s more, proceedings kick off with a song, Four Jews in a Room Bitching, that is as irritating as it is self-regarding and which in no way presages what is about to unfold.

It’s very much an evening of two halves. The first concentrates on the effect of Marvin’s actions on his wife and child and his developing, often fractious relationship with his boyfriend, known as Whizzer (Oliver Savile). We also see Trina’s unfolding romance with Mendel (Joel Montague, in fine voice), the shrink she shares with her estranged husband.

As Trina, Laura Pitt-Pulford gives the outstanding performance of the night, its apotheosis coming in her funny, frantic, head-banging solo, I’m Breaking Down, reason enough for the price of entry alone. She is well matched by Daniel Boys as Marvin who sings like a dream, eschewing limp-wristed caricature and entirely inhabiting his conflicted character.

A shout-out, too, for young Albert Atack, one of four alternate Jasons, who somehow manages to convince entirely as a lad on the eve of his Bar Mitzvah without ever tipping over into eye-rolling cuteness. And he’s got a voice like a bell, deftly wrapping his tonsils round the sub-Sondheim score, somewhat one-note stylistically-speaking.

The second half doesn’t work. There’s no easy way to say this but the tragedy that unfolds as Whizzer slips away in his hospital bed merely seems like a cliché almost 30 years on. It would be impossible to overestimate what AIDS wrought on the gay community but this feels grafted on to an uneven story, something admittedly that might not have struck an audience in the grip of the epidemic in the early 90s.

Falsetto is at The Other Palace, London SW1E 5JA until November 23: 0207 087 7900, www.lwtheatres.co.uk