George Street Playhouse closes its season with William Finn’s musical “Falsettos,” which seems timely for Garden State audiences in light of recent state legislation approving same-sex marriages. The Broadway success of Finn’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” makes the timing even more appropriate to revive this bittersweet 1992 tuner, which bagged Tonys for book and original score. The piece still has a bracing comic edge and accessibly brilliant songs, and the cast on the New Brunswick stage is perfection in every way.
The musical was generated from a trilogy of shorter pieces: “March of the Falsettos,” originally produced in 1981, and “Falsettoland,” its 1990 sequel; the 1987 “In Trousers” was subsequently abandoned.
The seamless narrative follows the turbulent travails of Marvin (Michael Winther), his former wife (Liz Larsen), his ten-year-old son (Malcolm Morano) and his male lover, Whizzer (Colin Hanlon). Counsel is administered by Mendel (Mark Nelson), the caring family shrink who falls for Marvin’s comely ex-mate. Story is set in 1981, making the AIDS crisis a pivotal plot device when Marvin’s lover is stricken.
Save for a handful of spoken lines, the entire piece is sung-through. It’s a complex, melodically bold score delivered here by strong assured voices.
In the pivotal role, Winther offers a poignant affirmation of the human spirit in the final hospital scenes. Larsen has a show-stopping turn with “I’m Breaking Down,” a nervous kitchen collapse performed with spirited vaudeville humor. Morano handles the kid turn deftly, displaying innocence, naivete and youthful vigor as he struggles with his own identity and the crucial decisions concerning the location of his forthcoming Bar Mitzvah.
Nelson’s self-assured psychiatrist boasts a sly and likable comic quirkiness. The neurotic Jewish family he is enlisted to comfort and advise is a real challenge, and apparently the only solution is to marry Marvin’s former wife. Adding to the superlative performances is Hanlon’s doomed Whizzer, who brings both dignity and heartbreak to the play’s final aching moments with the chilling revelation, “You Gotta Die Sometime.”
In act two, Dr. Charlotte (Anne L. Nathan) reveals her own daily horrors in the emergency room. She is comforted by her lover and obsessive culinary partner, Cordelia (Sarah Litzsinger). The brittle humor of Finn’s score, with its sharp lyrics, has a dark cutting edge that clearly define characters and narrative.
Working on Beowulf Boritt’s functional, open set of a black and white maze of floor and furniture, against revolving comic-book panels, George Street artistic director David Saint has helmed the production with a guiding awareness. He appears to grasp the emotional candor of honest and passionate relationships and has accented the heartbreak with humor.