In Act II of Falsettos, charismatic Trina sings "life is never what you plan / life is moments you don't understand." This is the core of the James Lapine/William Finn musical, which won Tonys for Best Book and Original Score in 1992. Things are sure not easy in the world of these characters: a husband (Marvin) leaves his wife (Trina) and son (Jason) for another man (Whizzer), while Marvin's therapist (Mendel) falls for the wife, and the son is left to deal with the consequences of his unconventional family.
Exceptional casting, gorgeous piano accompaniment, and a powerful piece of theater come together to make the Lantern Theater's first attempt at a musical in 60 years a complete masterpiece. The first song of Falsettos, "Four Jews in a Room Bitching" (complete with flashlights), begins the evening on a quirky note but soon transitions into a story about five people (and in the second act, two more) who are trying to find their own happiness, their own rhythm, when life is confusing, unruly, and out of control.
Almost entirely sung, this particular cast shines in every way – whether they are sharing the stage with one another or bumbling through their innermost thoughts by themselves. (If only a stream of consciousness could always sound this good.) It's almost an impossible feat to pinpoint the standout moments – there isn't room to list the entire program. Tanya Wills as Trina has an incredible mental breakdown in "I'm Breaking Down" that displays her chops and physical comedy, yet she still has the ability to seamlessly evoke helplessness and vulnerability in "Holding to the Ground". Ezra Hernandez passionately morphs into the role of Marvin, a man who struggles with his love for another man, his jealousy, and learning how to be a father to his son. His heartbreaking performance in "What Would I Do" and the electric duet of "Thrill of First Love" (with Chris Leidenfrost-Wilson) are true examples of the depths of his range as an actor, and the strong connection he has with his character.
Daniel Pivovar as Mendel, a man with as many problems and eccentricities as his patients, is a joy to watch and listen to. When paired with Jason (the sweet and talentEd Matthew Leigh at this particular performance), Trina and Marvin's son who is about to be bar mitzvahed, Pivovar is childlike and adorable himself, from his smooth dance moves to his killer voice. He brings out a softer side in Falsettos, even as his character grows and changes. Another memorable moment in this particular presentation was "I Never Wanted to Love You". Leidenfrost-Wilson steals this particular song that overlaps all major storylines in one number (something that happens various times during this musical).
Brilliantly directed by Rick Leidenfrost-Wilson (who also served as the Musical Director and pianist), Lantern Theatre's Falsettos easily transports you back to 1979 and 1981, bringing to life an emotionally gripping story full of personality and quirk. After a strong first act, it's hard to imagine that the second act could trump the first... but it truly mesmerizes from start to finish. Falsettos is everything a theater experience should be, and this production solidifies that; it reels the audience in, good and close, and leaves them thinking about it long after the final note is sung.
Though this particular production closed on March 25, it will be remounted in June at The Bleeker Street Theater in New York City in June. (For more information on this event, please visit www.offsides.org.) Hopefully, after such a stirring production, Long Island theater goers will not have to wait another 60 years to see Lantern Theatre's next musical!
Until then, the Lantern Theater will be presenting a comedy called The Cemetery Club with performances on June 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, and 24. Saturdays shows are at 8 and Sundays at 1:30. For more information please visit their website at http://www.lanterntheatreli.com/. The Lantern Theatre calls Congregation B'Nai Israel in North Freeport, New York its home.