FALSETTOS by William Finn and James Lapine (Acting Up Stage/Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company). At Daniels Spectrum (585 Dundas East). To May 12. $39-$55. 1-800-838-3006. See listings. Rating: NNN
A fine new remount of Falsettos can't hide the fact that it's a flawed work.
William Finn and James Lapine wrote two musicals a decade apart: March Of The Falsettos appeared in 1981, and Falsettoland debuted in 1990, both off-Broadway. The two were then revised and combined into Falsettos, which opened on Broadway in 1992.
This co-pro by Acting Up Stage and Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company revisits the original versions of both shows, and the maturity and focus of the later piece makes the earlier one seem naive and unfinished.
In the first, set in 1979, New Yorker Marvin (Stephen Patterson) leaves his wife, Trina (Glynis Ranney), for another man, Whizzer (Eric Morin). When Trina seeks help from Marvin's psychiatrist, Mendel (Darrin Baker), the two fall in love. Marvin and Trina's precocious 10-year-old son Jason (Michael Levinson), meanwhile, has questions of his own about his rapidly changing domestic world, but would rather sit at home playing chess than seek answers.
Falsettoland is set two years later on the eve of Jason's bar mitzvah. The estranged Marvin and Whizzer reunite, but a mysterious illness that seems to affect only gay men enters the scene, bringing everyone together in a poignant yet never sentimental fashion.
There's some rhythmic invention and snappy observations in a few of the first act's songs, particularly the opening number, Four Jews In A Room Bitching. But the lyrics can be vague, there's little momentum, and the characters feel unrounded. It's not even clear what the show and title song are about.
There's more at stake in Falsettoland. The melodies are tighter and the lyrics sharper, and all these help define the characters, especially Trina. The lovely Ranney gets a touching song that illustrates how Trina's dealing with the world shifting beneath her feet. But mostly these things help clarify the relationships of the show's "unlikely lovers," an all-too-human urban blended family.
The roles are beautifully cast: Patterson and Morin make the two men's complex, competitive relationship feel real through physicality and first-rate voices, while Baker nails a series of comic songs and has an amiable chemistry with Ranney. Levinson handles the difficult part of Jason with beyond-his-years wisdom, and Sarah Gibbons and Sara-Jeanne Hosie are perfection as a pair of lesbians whose lives get linked with the others'.
Musical director Reza Jacobs manages the score - it's virtually sung through - with aplomb, getting particular energy from novelty songs like the hilarious Baseball Game. And while Patrick Du Wors's set isn't the most inspired - a challenge, on the wide playing area chosen by director Robert McQueen - his work does evoke the two different eras.
And look for McQueen's subtle but powerful use of furniture - a table in the first half, a bed in the second - to help emphasize some of the deeper themes in this fascinating, if uneven, work.