For my first experience of a London musical, I had the chance to go and see William Finn and James Lapine’s Falsettos, described as a “hilarious and achingly poignant look at the infinite possibilities that make up a modern family and a beautiful reminder that love can tell a million stories”. The show merged amazing colourful performances with a sophisticated writing that achieves to deal with heavy matters in an enjoyable humoristic and light tone. Marvin (Daniel Boys) leaves his wife Trina (Laura Pitt-Pulford) because he fell in love with another man, Whizzer (Oliver Savile). However, Marvin still wants to stay in touch with his family and especially his son Jason (Albert Atack), a kid who has to understand what love means between a father whose sexuality he does not grasp and a mother who keeps on breaking down as she learns to deal with the reality of her broken family. The psychiatrist of the family (Joel Montague) gets involved as well as the hilarious and talented lesbian couple next door, Cordelia (Natasha J. Barnes) and Charlotte (Gemma Knight-Jones).
I was even more moved by Falsettos as I learnt about the history and context of the musical. The show premiered in New York in April 1992 and quickly appeared as a retrospect of the traumatizing era of the AIDS crisis LGBT+ individuals had just gone through, quickly followed by a pervasive social and political stigmatization. Thus, even in a city as progressive as New York, picturing homosexuals as individuals seeking love and family represented an important and urgent breakthrough. Falsettos therefore embodied an artistic medium allowing the re-appropriation and redefinition of a certain narrative. Through the evolution of the relationship between Marvin, Trina and Whizzer, a common societal discourse which pictured the LGBT community as solely imbued in pain, disease and promiscuity is proven wrong and revisited. The songs and the performances celebrate gay agencies and personalities, putting the marginalised and the invisible at the forefront.
In 2016, Falsettos saw its first Broadway revival – only three years after gay marriage became legal in the United States. It is interesting to see how almost twenty years after the premiere, the musical still appears to be an embodiment and a celebration of all the accomplishment of a community whose battle is far from over. This is brilliantly done through a joyful, colourful and musical celebration of an ‘out’ and ‘open’ life. From the opening song ‘Four Jews in a Room Bitching’ to the excellent ‘Trina’s Song’ and the heartbreaking ‘What Would I Do?’, Falsettos stands out by the quality of its lyrics and its performers.
The musical goes by the quote “Love can tell a million stories”, and it is evident that so can this well-performed and written show. The idea and concept of love is at the epicentre of Finn’s work – the love between parents and their son, between two men and two women, between a traumatised wife and her therapist, between life and death. Joy and heartbreak are merged in an intelligent way, and I left the theatre with a deep heart-warmed feeling. In a time that still feels troubled, scary and so complicated, Falsettos is certainly a resonant and important piece.