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NY Theater Reviews

Christian Borle, Anthony Rosenthal and Stephanie J. Block/ Ph: Joan Marcus

BLENDED FAMILIES

By SANDY MACDONALD

William Finn’s 1992 portrait of an unconventional clan proves its staying power.

I had to shop around a bit to find a willing companion for this revival. “It’ll be so dated,” said some who’d seen 1981’s March of the Falsettos and its heart-rending ’90 coda Falsettoland. It has now been 24 years since William Finn’s pair of mold-breaking musicals, cobbled into one, debuted on Broadway, and despite some epidemiological progress over the decades, the play’s one-two AIDS-plague punch still packs a wallop – especially given the renewed double threat of anti-LGBT discrimination and curtailed healthcare coverage.

Finn crafted his quirky musical for the ages, not one particular era. This very day, somewhere across the land, possibly close at hand, a wife is discovering that her seemingly straight husband has decided to rewrite his destiny. And every day, a hundred-odd individuals in the U.S. receive a diagnosis that’s no longer necessarily a death sentence but a challenge to contend with all the same.

So yes, Falsettos is still timely – and as delivered by a nonpareil troupe of performers convened by returning director James Lapine, it’s a knockout. The entire cast is so perfect, it’s hard to know whom to praise first. I’ll go with phenomenal Anthony Rosenthal as young Jason, because it’s mostly through his dawn-of-adolescence perspective that we view the flailing adults. You couldn’t ask for a less show-bizzy kid; Rosenthal’s Jason is laid back, laconic, reserving judgment – except when engaged in outlandish fantasy dances with his presumable role models (lighting designer Jeff Croiter bathes the ludic “March of the Falsettos,” choreographed by Spencer Liff, in hallucinogenic black light). As Trina, Jason’s mother, Stephanie J. Block also gets to dance – while cooking up a storm and singing her heart out. Her frantic aria “I’m Breaking Down” is a high point of the show.

Christian Borle, whom we’re accustomed to seeing in razzle-dazzle roles, is suitably subdued as Marvin, the renegade husband – ex-husband – who takes out his regrets and uncertainties on the new object of his affection. As Whizzer, the man who got Marvin away, Andrew Rannells casts off his customary cute-boy persona to achieve, in the plaint “The Games I Play” and later, a touching maturity and depth.

Echoed in David Rockwell’s constantly reconfigured, often off-kilter building-block set, the new domestic arrangements involve a complex juggling act, as those involved – including family-therapist-and-then-some Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz) – all acknowledge. At this juncture in history, when once again extreme emotions are tumbling to the surface – hope, despair, empathy, grief, disbelief – it’s a gift to be able to observe fundamentally decent people behaving decently, under the most trying of circumstances.