REVIEW: FALSETTOS (The Other Palace) ★★★★

The award winning Falsettos originally started life as the one-act musical ‘In Trousers’, written by William Finn premiering in 1979 at Off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons. After having two successful Off-Broadway runs of the show, Finn collaborated with James Lapine to create two additional one-act musicals, ‘March of the Falsettos’ and ‘Falsettoland’. March of the Falsettos premiered at Playwrights Horizons in 1981, Los Angeles Huntington Hartford Theatre in 1982 and the Library Theatre in Manchester here in the UK in 1987. Falsettoland opened at Playwrights Horizons in 1990 with both shows winning multiple awards including the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical. March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland were then combined into the two-act musical, Falsettos.

Falsettos opened on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre in 1992, with many cast members reprising their roles from the Off-Broadway one-act productions including Barbara Walsh as Trina, Chip Zien as Mendel, Heather MacRae as Charlotte and Carolee Carmello as Cordelia. Since then, Falsettos has seen two Australian productions in 1994 and a revival in 2014. A Broadway revival, directed by book writer James Lapine, was then staged in 2016 with Broadway glitterati Christian Borle as Marvin, Andrew Rannells as Whizzer, Stephanie J. Block as Trina, Brandon Uranowitz as Mendel, Tracie Thomas as Dr. Charlotte and Besty Wolfe as Cordelia. This year, the UK premiere of Falsettos is being produced by The Other Palace with an equally starry West End cast. London audiences finally get the opportunity to see “four Jews in a room bitching” and fall in love with this tight-knit family.

The multi-award winning Falsettos is a hilarious and heart-felt look at a modern family revolving around the life of a gay man Marvin, his wife, his lover, his soon to be bar mitzvahed son, their psychiatrist and their neighbouring lesbians. Originally written under the shadow of the AIDS crisis, this ground-breaking musical about family dynamics manages to remain buoyant and satirically perceptive even as it moves towards its heart-breaking conclusion.

As Mendel, Joel Montague delivers a supurb performance. Easily able to handle the complicated counter-point vocal demands of the show, Montague’s portrayal of the flawed psychiatrist is exquisite throughout as the audience meets his fully fleshed out and realised character. As Marvin, Daniel Boys performs with aplomb. Vocally strong throughout, Boys finds nuances in Marvin’s conflicted personality and delivers a well rounded and affecting performance expressed extremely eloquently in act two’s What More Can I Say. Oliver Saville give a vocally outstanding performance as Whizzer. Completely heart-breaking at the end of the show in his You Gotta Die Sometime, Saville does excellent work as Marvin’s lover. Sexual and emotional chemistry abounding, Saville uses every ounce of dialogue and lyric to create a fully believable character who noticeably changes throughout the years the show covers. Natasha J Barnes as Cordelia and Gemma Knight-Jones as Charlotte are nothing short of miraculous. Their powerful vocal and emotionally mature characters are a welcome addition to the second act. As the lesbians from next door, Barnes and Knight-Jones are instantly loveable and their chemistry and energy onstage is palpable. Sharing the role with three other actors, Albert Atack played son Jason on press night and did an exquisite job. Jason’s vocal is written in a way to allow the young actor playing him an emotional maturity and intelligence of someone years older. Atack goes above and beyond to deliver a confident, completely believable performance that had the audience in stitches and tears at different parts of the show. Laura Pitt-Pulford as Trina is outstanding. Broken, growing, loving, unstable and a mother Pitt-Pulford discovers these nuances in Trina to make her character come alive in a very real way while delivering a powerful vocal throughout. In Pitt-Pulford’s hands Trina’s I’m Breaking Down halfway through act one becomes an emotive and hilarious soliloquy of a women on the verge. Brava!

Falsettos is an affecting look at what it means to love and be a family. With a cast of seven, director Tara Overfield-Wilkinson has done exceptionally well with this understandably intimate show creating Flastettos on the main stage at The Other Palace. Around the edges of the stage, creating a proscenium arch, were a series of projection screens designed as photo frames which projected images to help depict each scene. Sitting midway in the auditorium and not wanting to miss anything in the witty and intelligent score, I often found myself distracted by what was happening on the screens as they were out of my immediate sightline to the actors onstage. While cleverly designed, especially when the actors interacted with the screens at stage level, I wondered if they were entirely necessary and wished the actors were left to tell the story through their emotional performances.

An exceptional London production at The Other Palace, Faslettos boasts a phenomenal cast in a story from the late seventies and early eighties that is more relevant today than ever in what are often scary and troubled times for the LGBTQ+ community. Falsettos is a beautiful, witty, nostalgic and intelligent musical reflecting life of a modern non-nuclear family. Join the tight-knit family and book for Falsettos at The Other Palace today!

Reviewed by Stuart James
Photo: The Standout Company

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