Married couples are still known to split when a husband goes off with a gay lover, only the difference between now and 1992 when “Falsettos” was first on Broadway is that such situations were less widely accepted than in the present after so much cultural change. “Falsettos,” with music and lyrics by William Finn, who co-wrote the book with James Lapine, also the director, is a period piece, but because of how well it is staged and acted has a fresh impact in this Lincoln Center Theater revival.
The musical gets off to a rousing start with the singing of the catchy “Four Jews in a Room Bitching,” a number that sets the tone for the work’s irreverence that provides sparkle and comedy before the musical plunges into its more somber tone dictated by the toll taken by AIDS.
The cast is a thoroughly winsome one, which compensates for the first act becoming at points a bit repetitious once the basic situation is set. The musical, with a score that it perky if often in a similar vein, picks up sharply in the second act despite a corny bar-mitzvah gambit, and is moving with its very sad climax that revives painful memories of loss for so many survivors of that era.
Stehanie J. Block is superb as Trina, the wife in the equation, and she soars in one of the show’s best numbers in which she frenetically sings about how she is breaking down. Christian Borle is outstanding as her husband, Marvin, who leaves when he falls in love with handsome Andrew Rannells as Whizzer. Talented Anthony Rosenthal is a wonderful show-stealer as Jason, the young son of Trina and Marvin. He also becomes attached to Whizzer, who spends time with everyone despite the upheaval he represents. Meanwhile, Brandon Uranowitz is another plus as Mendel, the psychiatrist who treats Trina and falls in love with her, a professional no-no but a great help in the musical as it provides Trina with what she needs and also delivers another anchor for young Jason.
You get the complexity, underscored by the peaceful entwining of relationships in Falsettoland as opposed to all turning into warfare. Add to the mix lesbian acquaintances Cordelia (Betsy Wolfe) and Dr. Charlotte (Tracie Thoms). The show takes its solemn turn when Whizzer suddenly falls ill.
There is much business about Jason’s impending bar-mitzvah, which he decides that he doesn’t want unless it can wait for Whizzer to get well and attend. The solution of holding the event (minus a rabbi, one might note) at Whizzer’s hospital bedside, can strike one as precious and ill-suited to the overwhelming seriousness of the situation, unless, of course, one is able to go unconditionally with the heartfelt emotional flow of the “Falsetto” message that we are all one when it comes right down to it.
On one score, there is no argument. The cast is top-flight, and director Lapine has staged it smartly, with solid input by choreographer Spencer Liff and set deigner David Rockwell, as well as by lighting designer Jeff Croiter. At the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street. Phone: 800-982-2787. Reviewed November 7, 2016.