Levi Tasman, Erik Moth, Erin Jump, Kirstie Buckley, Sydney Walters, & Alex Craig in Falsettos. Photo: CenterStage
Music and Lyrics by William Finn
Book by William Finn and James Lapine
Directed by Seth Lieber
Musical Direction by Rob Leffler
A review by Tory Parker
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Tory Parker. All rights reserved.
In the canon of “Plays/Musicals About Queer Characters Suffering from AIDS Written by Jewish Men,” Falsettos tends to get lost in the shuffle. It lacks the grandeur of Angels in America or the flashiness of RENT. It explores complex, challenging themes, and it expects a lot out of the audience. It doesn’t get bogged down by extraneous scenes of dialogue but is entirely sung-through, leading the audience to fill in time gaps and character specifics and keeps them along for the ride at a breakneck pace.
Falsettos drops you into the narrative just past the first big hurdle. It’s 1979 in New York City and Marvin (Alex Craig) has left his wife, Trina (Kirstie Buckley) to be with his lover, Whizzer (Trent Byers), but still wishes to maintain a close-knit family for the sake of their son, Jason (Levi Tasman). Trina has started sessions with psychiatrist Mendel (Erik Moth), who is instantly attracted to her, at Marvin’s insistence. And so we begin.
The plot of the show itself is dense, layered, and complicated, like any good family. Everything is communicated through knife-sharp, snappy lyrics nestled into earworms and dancey melodies. Everything rests on the actors’ ability to communicate feeling through song and to maintain a character even as the tones of the show peak and valley, and they do not disappoint. Each actor held to their character consistently and with enthusiasm. Erik Moth’s glorious tenor and darling smile leave no doubt as to why Trina would fall in love. Alex Craig and Trent Byers both have strong, lived-in voices and Byers’ bright higher register beautifully compliments Craig’s rumbling grit.
Kristie Buckley as Trina is on a whole other level. Her voice never wavered, and she showed the same control and intention there as she did with every movement on stage. It is always such a gift to watch an actor who is so fully dropped into their own body and how every single motion serves the character. Her rendition of “I’m Breaking Down” was perfection. In a show so deeply rooted in exploring the harmfulness of masculinity, she made sure that, though Trina’s circumstances may be pitiable, Trina herself was never pitiful.
The second half of Falsettos moves us firmly from comedy to tragedy, picking up two years later in 1981. It starts off well, with Jason on the cusp of his bar mitzvah year, Mendel and Trina happily married, Whizzer and Marvin back together and stronger than ever, and two new friends in the lesbian couple from next door. Throughout the course of Act II, we see how Jason’s bar mitzvah has not only given Jason the tools and opportunity to become a man, but it offers the petty, often disastrous men in his family the opportunity to mature as well.
Throughout the show, pain and love are woven closely together, as they always are when dealing with family. In his happiness and love of Whizzer, Marvin loses his family. In her pain at losing her husband and the idea of the life she was supposed to have, Trina finds she can’t help but love Whizzer anyway. Jason, in a deeply Tevye-inspired moment, pleads with God to save Whizzer’s life, promising that doing so will make him get bar mitzvah-ed.
The cast and crew at CenterStage understand what makes this show special, and they celebrate it. Every character in the show gets a beautiful, heartbreaking solo moment, but the show is strongest when the ensemble is together. Falsettos knows that we will hurt the ones we love most. We will not always make the right choices or even the kind choices. There will be things that we can’t control and don’t understand. There will be moments that may be so small but feel massive. But it’s better when you’re going through it with the ones you love.
Featuring Alex Craig, Trent Byers, Levi Tasman, Kirstie Buckley, Erik Moth, Syd Walters, & Erin Jump. In the orchestra: Rob Leffler, Brittany Franks, Blase Groody, Holly Smith, and Tamia Yates.
October 27 – November 3, 2022
Trager Family Jewish Community Center
3600 Dutchmans Lane
Louisville, KY 40205
Tory Parker is originally from West Virginia, graduated from Centre College, and now works in marketing at the Waterfront Botanical Gardens. In Louisville, she’s worked and performed with Claddagh Theatre Company, the Chamber Theatre, Bellarmine University, Wayward Actors Company, Derby City Playwrights, Company Outcast and director Emily Grimany. As a playwright, her original works appeared in the National Women’s Theatre Festival in their 2020 and 2021 Fringe Festivals.