BY CHRISTOPHER WALKER
One of Broadway’s sassiest musicals comes to London.
Falsettos was genuinely groundbreaking when it hit New York some decades ago, and continues to pack a punch.
This upbeat, hyper-energetic production brings a slice of LGBT history to life with some sparkling performances.
Audiences may no longer find its themes that shocking, but they are still thrilling, and moving, in turns.
Falsettos began life in 1979 in New York, as a one-act piece written by William Finn.
He went on to collaborate with James Lapine to produce two further acts – March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland – to give us the Marvin Trilogy, or Falsettos.
As such, what started as a glimpse into unconventional family relationships in New York’s gay community, expanded to include the horror of the AIDS crisis as it crept into central character Marvin’s life.
The musical premiered on Broadway in 1992 and was nominated for seven Tony Awards.
Falsettos is therefore a very important part of Broadway and the LGBT community’s history.
The story concerns Jewish New Yorker Marvin who leaves his wife Trina for another man (the strangely named) Whizzer.
The neurotic tension between them, and Marvin and Trina’s son Jason has a very New York feel.
That caffeine-infused Manhattan supercharge that drives people to distraction. It is no surprise to find Trina has a shrink, Mendel, nor that he plays an increasingly central role in all their lives.
This well-crafted production directed by relative newcomer Tara Overfield-Wilkinson captures that perfectly. As do the literally brilliant, vibrant, images that make up P J McEvoy’s design.
This was the first time I’ve seen one of his sets, and I shall certainly watch out for them in the future.
Daniel Boys is very powerful as Marvin, bringing out the patriarchal nature of his character if ultimately making him rather unattractive.
Laura Pitt-Pulford as his wife Trina is a much more likeable character, and with her very strong voice she somewhat steals the show.
Her rendition of I’m Breaking Down being particularly notable.
Marvin’s lover Whizzer is played by a very wistful Oliver Saville.
Saville is fast becoming musical theatre’s Prince Charming, famous for his roles in Wicked, Cats and Phantom of the Opera.
Together with Mendel, the shrink, this quartet kicks off the show with “Four Jews in a room bitching,” which rather sets the tone for gentle shocking.
In the performance I saw Mendel was played by understudy Matthew McKenna. He was excellent and deserves more.
A rota of different child actors plays Marvin’s son Jason. I was lucky enough to see James Williams who had the audience in stitches.
He has lots of good lines and great songs like the Miracle of Judaism and I’m sure will go on to bigger and better things.
Jason’s bar mitzvah becomes central to the four adults’ disagreements.
This piece is indeed rooted in the Jewish community and there was a lot of controversy over the lack of Jewish performers. Twitter can be cruel.
Natasha Barnes as Cordelia and Gemma Knight-Jones as Charlotte, the lesbian couple next door, complete the strong cast.
Charlotte is a doctor who works in the New York hospital where the AIDS sufferers are ultimately treated. A bittersweet emotional scene later in the show.
I must confess to being uncomfortable with musicals tackling such serious subjects, but concede that it does work here.
Overall, this is a top notch production of an important work.
The shock factors may not be as powerful as they once were, but they are still there.
For tickets, go to lwtheatres.co.uk or call 0207 087 7900.
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