Falsettos Opens at the Ahmanson

The opening song sets the stage perfectly “Four Jews in a Room Bitching.”

William Finn and James Lapine stitched together two musicals that had debuted Off Broadway four decades ago, and debuted the pair on Broadway in 1992. The Lincoln Center Theater production of the musical opened recently in Los Angeles, and although many in the opening night audience howled their approval, I am uncertain the production works in such a large venue.

The intimate tale of a couple, their son and the husband’s lover undoubtedly worked well in the smaller Manhattan venues. But the LA cast worked very hard to fill the Ahmanson, with Max Von Essen being the most successful. As Marvin (husband, father and gay lover) Von Essen faces the biggest challenges. Torn between three often-conflicting sets of affections, Marvin struggles to keep his life on track. Von Essen has the most versatile voice of the cast, evoking a range of emotions with aplomb.

L-R: Max von Essen and Nick Adams, from the First National Tour of “Falsettos,” playing at the Ahmanson Theatre April 16 through May 19, 2019.

Marvin’s wife Trina is ably played by Eden Espinosa, who brings down the house in “I’m Breaking Down.” Her recitations of her challenges evoke the evening’s biggest cheers. Nick Adams plays Whizzer, the man who enters their lives. With the necessary machismo Adams becomes a hero to Jason, the hetero couple’s son. Among the characters roves Mendel, a psychiatrist (played by Nick Blaemire) who treats the husband and wife, with an increasing focus on the wife.

Eden Espinosa and Nick Blaemire

About halfway through the first act the men deliver a rave up with Day-Glo effects; the song “March of the Falsettos” was the name of the first short play. The first act ends not with a bang but with the tender “Father to Son.” That story structure boldly signals (if not already evident) that this isn’t your standard Broadway musical.

L-R: Audrey Cardwell and Bryonha Marie Parham

Act Two introduces the lesbians next door, Dr. Charlotte and Codelia (Bryonha Marie Parham and Audrey Cardwell). The pair add needed layers, as the travails of the characters in Act One begin to lose momentum.

David Rockwell’s set centers on a cleverly designed cube, with is dissembled by the cast into chairs, tables, walls and portals. Director Lapine knows the material intimately, and guides the cast well. Falsettos comes to the Ahmanson with a clutch of Tony Award nominations, and it will undoubtedly appeal to many. I liked it well enough, but it won’t make my Best Of list at the end of the year.

Photos by Joan Marcus.

Tickets available here.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.