Smile Politely

Station Theatre delivers love in Falsettos

Photo of a musical theatre stage including five white actors wearing 1980's era costumes on a set with a painted backdrop. The costumes are blues and oranges with a childlike drawing of a child with its hands in the air on one piece of the theatre flats. The other flat has a cityscape painted on it.
Cast of Falsettos from The Station Theatre on Facebook

There’s nothing like a good love story; composer-lyricist William Finn’s (b. 1952) Falsettos is one of many in the musical theatre canon. But this musical love story eclipses many others with one magic, elusive trait: It’s got a whole lot of heart. Finn’s works are highly autobiographical, drawing from his experiences as a queer, Jewish man from Massachusetts. But to label his musicals as “gay” or “Jewish” is also to shortchange the elements that will strike a chord with virtually anyone. They’re real, raw, and don’t pull any punches when it comes to telling stories of love and loss, and Finn’s Falsettos at the Station Theatre delivers.

The musical, which opened March 21st with direction by Kendall Jeonson — taking inspiration from the 2016 revival and focusing on allowing each actor to shine — follows the messy misfortunes of a seemingly unconventional family. At the center is the complex heart of Marvin (Michael Steen), a gay man in 1979 who has divorced his wife, Trina (Jaclyn Loewenstein), to be with his lover, Whizzer (Andrew Simek), much to the dismay of Marvin and Trina’s precocious 10-year-old son, Jason (Robin Fitzgerald). Although none of them seem especially relaxed with the situation, they’ve continued to maintain some semblance of balance. In fact, they still share meals together. (Talk about awkward family dinners…)

The story is told through Finn’s tuneful, toe-tapping score fused with insightful lyrics and deliciously crunchy harmonies. The musical is sung through, supported by a Teeny Tiny Band that is small but mighty and really rock — “Jason’s Therapy” is such a bop — led adeptly by music director Caitlin Richardson. It begins with the disarming and comical “Four Jews In A Room Bitching,” and goes on to set a tender tone, disguising Marvin’s selfishness. In “A Tight Knit Family,” he sees himself as the head of an extended family consisting of a faithful wife, a respectful son, and a devoted lover. Yet when he later learns that his ex-wife is marrying Mendel (Chris Abbott), the family psychiatrist, he feels abandoned.

Photo of two white men facing each other in a close up. One is wearing a blue shirt and the one on the right is wearing a rust-colored buttoned-down shirt.
Andrew Simek and Michael Steen in Falsettos; The Station Theatre on Facebook

Being replaced as her husband’s wife by his new, younger male lover, and then subsequently falling in love with her psychiatrist (who also treats her son and her ex-husband), it’s no wonder that Trina feels like she’s losing it. Loewenstein gives a performance of “I’m Breaking Down” she’s clearly waited four years to give (you’ll recall that Falsettos at the Station was postponed in 2020 by COVID), one-upping herself until she belts the last note while descending into a split like it’s the easiest thing she’s ever done.

At times, these rich characters seem to lack nuance — they’re neurotic, to be sure, but they’re also hurting. Still, the earnestness of this ensemble cast outpaces any blemishes. Steen’s humanizing portrayal of a difficult character on paper is well-matched by Simek’s Whizzer, whose likeability is essential to the plot. This production’s otherwise perfectly brisk pace leaves behind a few comedic moments, but that’s the exception to the rule, particularly Simek. He’s hilarious but also heartbreaking and suave. His performance of “You Gotta Die Sometime” in the second act is a gut punch.

Abbott’s Mendel rounds out the cast, and his portrayal of this loveably weird “shrink” is altogether charming. But the real standout is Fitzgerald, who looks like he’s having the time of his life when the audience roars with laughter as he proclaims, “My Father’s A Homo!” In many ways, Jason is the central character of this story, as the adults in the room grapple with life’s messiness amidst trying to rear the next generation. They all clearly love Jason, and the audience all clearly love Fitzgerald.

Niccole Powers’ gray-washed scenic design makes good use of the Station’s intimate space and transports us to 1980s New York. The added splashes of color, which allude to street art and Keith Haring’s 1989 “Ignorance = Fear / Silence = Death” poster design, (created in conjunction with the New York-based activist group ACT UP, or AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), are a great choice. Costumes (Marisa Winegar) and props (Carissa Yau) capture the 80s vibe, complete with aerobics and Tupperware. Audio in musicals is always tricky, especially balance. Still, Finn’s rich score and characters come through.

Photo of two women on a theatre set. The one on the left has curly hair and is wearing a pink dress with a teal jacket. The woman on the right is wearing a sparkling green shirt and wears glasses.
Kimmy Schofield and Melissa Goldman in Falsettos; The Station Theatre on Facebook

While the first act is a laugh-out-loud good time, the second strikes a somber tone. We fast-forward two years where “Something Bad Is Happening” as a mysterious illness looms. We’re introduced to Dr. Charlotte (Melissa Goldman) and Cordelia (Kimmy Schofield), the lesbian lovers from next door and the newest members of this little queer family. Goldman is delightful, and Schofield brings her signature unmatched sincerity to every role she portrays.

The Station has recently taken to guaranteeing performances for their understudies, a refreshing adjustment for a small theatre in a community bursting with talent. With a piece as good as this one, there’s a lot for an actor to play with as they bring their character to life, and seeing this understudy cast’s different choices is a real treat. Emily Hogan’s Trina leans into the pain, anger, and grief bubbling beneath a carefully crafted façade. Her honest performance of “Trina’s Song” is a memorably poignant moment from Act I, as is “Father to Son” between Jacob Deters’ Marvin and Ruth Ionin’s Jason. Owen Henderson’s Whizzer is sassier, to be sure, and just as heartbreaking. If you can see both casts, you really should.

In the queer community, we are fond of the concept of “chosen family.” Community, queer or otherwise, is often predicated on extreme loss and shared trauma. The loss of Whizzer binds this family together, holding each other tightly while the lights fade to black at the show’s end. With our own generation’s viral pandemic having shuttered this particular production four years ago, parallels are easily drawn between this family of characters and this community of theatre-makers. If this musical teaches us anything, it’s that unconditional love and holding each other tightly are the only answers to life’s often cruel unpredictability.

Love, indeed, tells a million stories. Stories of marriage, stories of friendship, stories that make us laugh until we cry, and stories that split our hearts in two. But the real love story here is this company of artists’ unmistakable love for bringing this musical to life woven into every beat of this energetic and buoyant production. See it, and you’ll kill for the thrill of your first time seeing this beautiful show.

The Station Theatre
223 N Broadway Ave
Mar 21-Apr 7
Tickets and info available online

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