Reviews //

MUSE’s Falsettos: A wealth of heart

The bitterness of the first act sets up a sense of sweetness in the second. I was amazed that characters so initially unlikable — who I had set myself against so strongly — could win my heart with their attempts to love each other.

For my first time attending a MUSE production, and the society’s first production of 2023, Falsettos certainty does not disappoint. Director William Rogut captures the magic and tragedy of a Broadway classic.

Falsettos moved me from exaltation to despair. It is a gruelling emotional experience, a touching representation of an unhappy period of history for the LGBTQI+ community. For those unfamiliar, the story centres on a big, complicated family living in New York in 1979. Marvin (Matthew Dorahy) has left his wife (Eleanor Fair) and son (Meg Nevin) to be with his boyfriend Whizzer (David Cumiskey). The play begins mid-conflict, and the first act follows Marvin’s misbegotten attempts to bring the two worlds together. After this all ends in a mess, the second act covers the rebuilding of the wreckage two years later, and a bar mitzvah.

The bitterness of the first act sets up a sense of sweetness in the second. I was amazed that characters so initially unlikable — who I had set myself against so strongly — could win my heart with their attempts to love each other. It is the rapport between the cast members that makes the conflict of the first act bearable. While it is a tense journey, the vivid personalities of the characters and their relationships keep you invested.

Whizzer is intensely hilarious, the wrench in this heterosexual machinery. In his first production with MUSE, Cumiskey has astounding stage presence, and Whizzer’s invincible confidence makes the end of his storyline a genuine shock. Marvin initially comes off a little pathetic, but up against Whizzer, he is surprisingly witty. Trina’s declining mental health and frustration throughout the first act is pulled off flawlessly by Fair, culminating in the iconic fever-dream number ‘March of the Falsettos’, in which the immature men in her life sing a tribute in high unbroken voices.

Speaking of immature men, there is another mixed up in this madness. Marvin’s, and later the family’s, psychiatrist Mendel (Alexander Cunningham) provides a comedic centre to this production. Cunningham’s physical comedy and quizzical facial expressions were the cherry on top of countless jokes, and his role as the smooth-brained voice of reason in the second act makes it impossible to not become attached. The development of Trina and his relationship is very touching, and his incorporation into the family feels natural. Their song ‘Making A Home’ smarts of heteronormative ease, but nevertheless is unbelievably sweet. Mendel soon joins the ranks of Jason’s innumerable parents, alongside the lesbians from next door: Dr. Charlotte (Maggie Hartsuyker) and Cordelia (Caitlin Whiter).

Introduced in the second act, Charlotte’s no-nonsense attitude — complete with being armed with a stethoscope — and Cordelia’s sweet determination to feed everyone are key to the characters’ efforts to strengthen their bonds with one another. Despite having their own problems, these two provide support and community for their growing family. The lives of the characters are plagued by tragedy from start to end, but the transformation occurs in how they face this tragedy. Their relationships begin in selfish conflict, jealousy, and confusion. By the end, they are still imperfect people, but they meet tragedy with love and faith.

The music — originally by William Finn — directed by Racheal Pearson, was a delight. Being entirely sung-through, the music is critical to a successful Falsettos production. Performances from the band and the cast capably captured the original production’s light and witty humour. The opening number of the second act ‘Falsettoland’ was a highlight, as was Fair’s overall performance. Her performance of ‘I’m Breaking Down’ was unhinged and marked her out as the splintering joint within the family dynamic. ‘What More Can I Say’ — sung by Marvin as Whizzer lies asleep in his lap — was performed with intense vulnerability by Dorahy in a rare moment of peace.

Rogut’s production of Falsettos is a mature and emotionally intense production, executed by direction and performance with skill and thoughtfulness. Doing justice to its origins with its wealth of heart, the realistic recovery of a broken family transforming into a strong queer community raising a child reflects positively on the ongoing fight for the rights of gay couples. It is a rich celebration of their essential place in marriage, family, and community.

Filed under: