Its all relative in Circuits Falsettos.
by Hadley Hury
dds are that whatever deficits theatre-goers may find in the musical
Falsettos on stage at Circuit Playhouse through February 8th
will be outweighed by its assets. Its an even better bet that
any cavils will target the material itself rather than the Circuit
production, which is ambitious and entertaining. Smartly directed
by Kevin Shaw with music direction by Michael Meeks, and brought
to life by a fine cast including Kim Justis, Randall Hartzog,
Michael Detroit, Tom Clifton, and Timothy Joel Case, the Circuit
show measures up very well to the rigorous demands of Falsettos
unusual structure, pace, and tone.
Cobbled together from two off-Broadway musicals, March of the
Falsettos and Falsettoland, the amalgam Falsettos won two 1992
Tony Awards. Created by William Finn, in collaboration with James
Lapine (who is perhaps best known as Stephen Sondheims librettist
and director of choice), the two acts are opera-like, in form
if not in idiom arias, duets, trios, quartets, and choruses
are connected with recitatives. When first presented in the early
and mid-80s, they were considered cutting-edge, not only in form
but in content. Set in 1979-81, the story which might most generously
be described as an impressionistic collage is an urban roundelay
of love, sexuality, marriage, divorce, and friendship, all driven
by the common need for a sense of family, whether biological or
Marvin (Hartzog) leaves his family to live with his feckless but
handsome male lover, Whizzer (Clifton). His ex-wife Trina (Justis)
marries his psychiatrist, Mendel (Detroit). Marvin and Whizzers
coupledom doesnt work out. Marvin ends up alone until his sons
bar mitzvah, two years later, when he and Whizzer are reunited
in the face of the emerging horror of the AIDS epidemic.
If that sounds like a bit much to deal with, even in an evening
that runs (intermission excluded) well over two hours it is.
The first and larger part is by far the more interesting. Finns
score and lyrics abound with wit and variety; the musical forms
range from Tin Pan Alley to Yiddish theatre-patter songs, introspective
Sondheimian soliloquys to Jerry Hermanesque ballads. The second
part of the program is not without its redeeming moments and
the strong Circuit cast works hard to keep it aloft but it simply
cannot sustain either the musical interest or the fresh energy
of the vignette structure. Some of the songs begin to take on
the dull patina of new-age repetitiveness and elevator-deep sentimentality
and, narratively, the reunion of Marvin and Whizzer combined with
the onslaught of AIDS and its huge, insidious ramifications
for love and sexuality in our time is given short shrift. The
sharp turn into seriousness is unguided and insufficiently supported.
The ending feels tacked-on, rushed, unexamined, pat; for some,
it may even have the unintended impact of trivializing the very
aspects of humanity that Finn seeks to honor.
As the intelligent and wry-before-his-time son of Marvin and Trina,
13-year-old Case is a constant delight in the Circuit Falsettos.
Jason is a major role in every sense it requires a lot of singing,
some very fine nuances of character; the boy functions, in a sense,
as a framing perspective for the audience. He enables us to stand
outside our acquired, adult compromises and indulgences, to follow
the foibles of Marvin and the other adults with the ruthlessly
honest perceptions and needs of a child. Case does a wonderful
job of making Jason very funny and very moving.
Hartzogs characterization of Marvin is thoughtful and strong
and, in one of his most demanding singing roles to date, he handles
himself well. Clifton sings the role of Whizzer beautifully and
he gives the character what we most need to see: for all his shallowness,
he has joie de vivre and a gentle heart. In the evenings second
part, Patti Hatchett and Leah Bray acquit themselves well in two
sketchy roles that seem emblematic of Falsettos hurried, undernourished
denouement. Justis and Detroit turn in their customary good work
in portraying Trina and Mendel; the performances are focused with
adroit musicality and terrific comic timing.
The onstage band, scrimmed in silhouette on a platform above the
back of the stage, is composed of Meeks, Renee Kemper, and Leiza
Collins. An unobtrusive but important element in this rousing
Circuit production, they maintain a clean musical line, an almost
frenetic pace, and an appropriate tone of comic rue for Finns
whirlwind tour of that great falling-off, that grinding shift
of gears, that marked Americas passage into the 1980s.
(Falsettos, a musical by William Finn in collaboration with James
Lapine. Through February 8th at Circuit Playhouse. 726-4656 for
A tribute to Memphis actor Jim Ostrander will be staged Monday
evening, January 26th, at Theatre Memphis. Ticket price is pay
all you can, ($10 minimum).The tribute which will feature scenes
and songs from a variety of local performers is planned to help
defray the steep costs of Ostranders spirited battle with cancer.
Reception and cash bar at 7 p.m., curtain at 8.
Co-directed by Cookie Ewing and Barry Fuller, the show is produced
by Theatre Memphis, Playhouse on the Square, Rhodes College, and
German-town Community Theatre. n
(For more information, call Michael Fortner at 682-8601.)
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