'Falsettos' Mixes Humor and Pain

FALSETTOS Musical with music and lyrics by William Finn, book by Mr. Finn and James Lapine. Directed by Mr. Lapine. Starring Michael Rupert, Stephen Bogardus, Chip Zien. At the John Golden Theatre.

`FALSETTOS" combines two earlier musicals - "March of the Falsettos" and "Falsettoland" - into a single evening's entertainment. With some updating of their earlier Off-Broadway collaborations, William Finn and James Lapine present once more the tragicomedy about a family affected and/or afflicted by fallout from the sexual revolution.

"I divorced my wife," sings Marvin (Michael Rupert). "I left my child. I went off with a friend." The friend is Whizzer (Stephen Bogardus). The consequences of these infidelities provide the substance of a musical that stretches over a two-year period (1979-81). Finn offers signature songs to identify and define all of the characters.

Chip Zien introduces his comic-psychiatrist type with "My name is Mendel ... the insecure shrink." Marvin's wife Trina (Barbara Walsh) confesses her emotional breakdown in a show-stopping number. Their young son Jason (bespectacled Jonathan Kaplan) hails chess as "the most beautiful thing in the world." Marvin himself wishes "I'd like to be as mature as my son, who is twelve-and-a-half." For riveting physical action, Marvin and Whizzer engage in a fierce game of squash.

Given the circumstances in a time of AIDS, it comes as little surprise when "Falsettos" concludes in the dying Whizzer's hospital room. But not before the celebration of Jason's bar mitzvah. Such are the ways in which the authors combine the funny and painful elements of a dire situation. In one of the more successful comic numbers, the family gathers to watch Jason play baseball as they sing "Jewish boys who cannot play baseball play baseball." Mendel summarizes his shrink's credo with "Everyone Hates H is Parents."

The production pays due heed to the range of musical and emotional contents in Finn's score. Besides those already mentioned, the talented cast includes Heather Mac Rae and Carolee Carmello as a pair of lesbian neighbors. Accompaniments are provided by the "tiny, teeny" upstage band, conducted by Scott Frankel from the piano.

Douglas Stein's scenery features a red door and some very mobile furniture. The show was costumed by Ann Hould-Ward and lighted by Frances Aronson.

"Falsettos" is the final entry of the 1991-'92 Broadway season.

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