“What is normal?”
This three-word quote is a simple, yet quintessential, summation of the musical masterpiece that is Falsettos. The Tony Award-winning show, directed by Stephen Colyer, is a story about familial relationships, set against the backdrop of the early ‘80s AIDS epidemic. Father and husband Marvin has recently left his wife for a younger man and struggles to maintain a ‘tight knit’ family between himself, his lover, his ex-wife and his son. If things weren’t already messy enough, a relationship develops between Marvin’s psychiatrist and his former spouse. With complicated relationships like that, it’s little wonder that this musical is being referred to as the original Modern Family.
The Eternity Playhouse Theatre in Darlinghurst is the perfect location for Falsettos. The intimacy of the performance space makes the audience feel like they are right there in the kitchen with the family. The single pianist is even incorporated into the home-like setting, with the piano itself being encased in a frame-like fashion on the wall. The musician offers an unspoken invitation to the audience pre-show with his refreshingly everyday antics; knitting a scarf that would make Tom Baker proud, and taking the time to water a solitary pot plant. Before a single song is sung, the set already feels like home. Depending on your own family life, this feeling may have been either negated or confirmed when the actors began singing the first song ‘Four Jews in a Room Bitching’.
Actor Ben Hall, who plays the character of Whizzer, describes Falsettos as a “hilarious show” about “incredibly dysfunctional relationships.” The minimalistic stage and purposeful shortage of props seems to highlight this idea. The characters and their relationships are the focus of the show. They’re so in depth that one seems to forget that Whizzer is miming getting undressed, Marvin is pretending to climb under an invisible blanket while Trina moves a large wooden box with no help from stagehands. This approach is refreshing, forces versatility and seems to fit perfectly with the accompanying self-deprecating humour of the show.
The ‘80s may be well and truly in the past, but that in no way negates the family oriented theme of Falsettos. In fact, one could argue that the show’s relevance has been reinvented due to the current political and social environment surrounding issues of gay marriage and same sex child rearing. This idea is particularly prevalent through the character of Jason, Marvin and Trina’s son. According to Hall, Jason is “…the most normal, healthy person in the entire show. The least neurotic; the smartest and most understanding.”
Considering that many channels of the mainstream media depict Mardi Gras as little more than a one-night alcohol soaked celebration, shows such as this are imperative to the month long festival. Hall agrees, stating, “That is only one element of that culture.” The actor goes on to say that the most important element of the show is love, regardless of sexual orientation: “Love, is love, is love. No matter which way you look at it, that’s just what it is. It’s not politics; it’s not anything else. It’s about that person’s own journey and his own life.”
Despite the heavy hitting issues that are explored in the show, it certainly isn’t all doom and gloom. Important themes are permeated with humour and a variety of quirky dance numbers; everything from classic Hollywood to ‘80s Jazzercise. Hall is certainly correct when he explains, “Instead of trying to be realistic, Stephen took the craziness and just ran with it.”
Theatre junkies who love shows that think outside the box (literally, in this case) will thoroughly enjoy Falsettos. The entire cast is captivating from beginning to end, each giving performances worthy of a standing ovation.