By Linda Kinney
What a pleasure to see live theater again at the Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre. My last time there was in 2019. As Artistic Director Lisa Carrier Baker said in the poster, “Ravi doesn’t begin to describe how it feels to be back at Theater Arts Arena, with you, after a hiatus of three years.” It was the first time I saw the very moving and important musical Falsettos. I was not disappointed by Kurt Boehm’s wonderful direction or Nathan Beary Blustein’s smooth and well-executed musical direction. Falsettos was written by William Finn and James Lapine, with music and lyrics by Finn. The musical premiered on Broadway in 1992 and was nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning Best Book and Best Original Score.
The cast is small but talented and powerful. Falsettos takes place in New York in 1979. It tells the story of Marvin, played by the talented Ben Clark, who is survived by his wife, Trina, brilliantly played by Emma Hanks. Darien Chan played Jason, their ten-year-old son. The young actor acted as if he had acted for years.
Marvin leaves Trina for his gay lover, Whizzer, portrayed sensitively by Jimmy Bartlebaugh. This creates a ripple effect of guilt, anger, sadness and betrayal. Marvin and his family are Jewish, and he is very proud of his heritage and his family, as heard in the song “A Tight-Knit Family”. The first act focuses on the impact of this action on him and his family. His wife seeks therapy with a psychiatrist, Mendel, played well by Sam Intrater. Mendel is instantly drawn to Trina as she struggles with the end of her marriage to Marvin in the song “Love Is Blind”.
Marvin and Whizzer have their own issues to deal with, one being Marvin’s desire for monogamy with Whizzer in the song “The Thrill of First Love”. Jason worries about his future in the hilarious “My Dad Is A Gay” number, and everyone involved urges Jason to see a psychiatrist (“Everyone tells Jason to see a psychiatrist”). Trina worries about her role in the family being replaced by Whizzer, and she strings together a resounding, moving, and entertaining rendition of “I’m Breaking Down.” There are many wonderful musical numbers that complete the first act, including “March of the Falsettos”, beautifully harmonized by Intrater, Clark, Chan and Bartlebaugh.
The second act fast forwards to 1981, the start of the AIDS epidemic, with a reference to the indifference of Nancy Reagan, who chose to focus on the “war on drugs” rather than the impending crisis. AIDS. The act opens with a delightful rendition of “Falsettoland” conducted by Intrater and company. Marvin has new neighbors, Dr. Charlotte, expertly played by Valerie Nagel, and his lesbian girlfriend, Cordelia, played convincingly by Cate Ginsberg.
The musical flows from song to song with very little dialogue. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at first, but the storytelling drew me in. The costume pieces were very well tailored to each character and time period by costume designer Kristina Martin. Elizabeth McFadden’s set design was representative of New York and really worked for this production. The actors were well suited for each of their roles, with standout performances from Ben Clark, Emma Hanks, and Darien Chen.
As director Kurt Boehm said in his show’s director’s note, Falsettos is “an important play because it represents the LGBTQ community, Judaism, coming out and proudly living life with dignity and honor”.
Duration: Approximately 2h30, including 15 minutes intermission.
Falsettos plays June 24, 2022 at 8 p.m., June 25 at 8 p.m. and June 26 at 2 p.m. presented by Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theater performing at Theater Arts Arena, Theater Arts Building, Rockville Campus, 51 Mannakee Street, Rockville, MD. Tickets ($65 buffet and show, $25 show only) can be purchased on line or by calling 240-567-5301 (box office hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.).
COVID Safety: Vaccine cards will be checked at the door. All patrons must provide proof of vaccination OR recent negative COVID test (within 72 hours of show). Wearing a mask is mandatory to enter the arena, approach the buffet and during the show.
Assistant Music Director, Matthew Dohm
Lighting designer, Lynn Joslin
Sound Designer, Frank DeSando