Review: Falsettos at Actor’s Express
Falsettos is the prime example of “the cast makes the show”
Falsettos is 2/3 of William Finn’s Marvin trilogy. The trilogy covers Marvin’s life and the relationships that come, go, and grow during someone’s lifetime. Falsettos picks up after “In Trousers” the first installment of the trilogy, where Marvin reveals he prefers to be with men and tells us what happened in the next two acts of his life.
Falsettos has been scrutinized and applauded since its first bow on Broadway in 1992 for its structure and story. Early on, it’s clear to see the key to falsettos is good direction and a great cast. Falsettos is one of the most complicated pieces of theater written in the past 40 years. Musically, it is a maze of harmonies, constantly changing time signatures, and a lot of falsetto. (get it? Cause the musical and….never mind). Story wise, it very much feels like these were two separate entities that were put together. Which leaves it up to the director and the cast to make these stories feel cohesive.
I MUST applaud this cast. Actors Express has an all star team bringing this monster of a musical to life.
There is not one weak link in this cast. You can hear the hours they’ve spent listening and learning this score. You can see the work they’ve put into finding who these characters are and what they want. It is remarkable. For me, the music is the best part of Falsettos. It reads almost like Jason Robert Brown’s “Songs for a New World” in its structure. The most interesting aspect of Falsettos is every character has a big song. Each character has that song that opens the blinds and lets the audience know what they’re feeling. What their hopes are, what their doubts are, and who they really are. It’s also important to note, they’re all melodically and lyrically beautifully written, from “I’m Breaking Down” to “You Gotta Die Sometime”.
This cast features one of my favorite actors, Ben Thorpe. Ben literally SHINES as Mendel. He’s a star, plain and simple. It is an honor to watch him onstage, he’s a masterclass in comedic timing and just making good choices. He owns this role in such a beautiful way and makes you fall in love with Mendel almost instantly.
Another standout is Jessica De Maria as Trina. Listen to me when I say she is SINGING. Jessica is using her ENTIRE range for this role, from the chest, to the mix, and straight to the head voice and doing it all seamlessly. I’ve never seen anyone be so vocally full and present as she is.
Musical theater is known for its triple threats but usually on the list of threats acting falls last. This is a cast of ACTORS. The kids are singing giving you these good full high notes but they are also acting for their lives!!
They help make sense of the behemoth that is Falsettos, but they can only do so much of the work.
Falsettos only works for audiences when each character’s intentions are clear. The audience just has to know what’s happening. If I hadn’t known the show beforehand, I would’ve been just as confused as everyone else. Musical theatre is easily digestible to audiences because we’re spoon-fed information through song.
With Falsettos, it is practically force fed in the first act. It gives information and backstory like a play because it’s catching you up on the act you’ve already missed (In trousers, the first part that’s not included). Which means you must be even more precise in your direction of the show and guide the audience a little. This production is best described as “Falsettos without the training wheels”. It throws you in the water and asks if you can swim later. Which doesn’t go well for older audiences or audience members that are unfamiliar with the material.
The first act is “about as clear as mud” one audience member said and I’d agree.
All the charm and comedic moments seen in its tony nominated Lincoln center revival film mostly gone. The second act thankfully makes up for its counterpart with clearer direction. many moments are still lost. Mainly, the duality of Marvin is largely absent from the show. Marvin is described as a sweet man but in this production of Falsettos, the sweetness is nowhere to be found until the end of the first act. But by the time it arrives, the audience has already found a reason to dislike the character. So when your audience stops caring about your main character, it’s never good.
The cast features Craig Waldrip as Marvin, Jordan Dell Harris as Whizzer, Ben Thorpe as Mendel , Jessica De Maria as Trina, Kandice Arrington as Dr. Charlotte and Kylie Brown as Cordelia. The role of Jason will be shared by Alex Newberg and Vinny Montague.
Though its direction is sometimes unclear, this cast makes Falsettos a win for Actor’s Express. The Actor’s Express production of Falsettos runs through April 28th. Click here to buy tickets!
All photos used are by Casey Gardner Photography.