Vagabonds' 'Falsettos' reveals a touching, nontraditional family @

November 24, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Not long ago it would have been difficult to imagine a musical tackling the challenging subjects of homosexuality and AIDS. It would have been even more difficult to imagine it on Broadway -- or even Baltimore's Broadway, where the Vagabond Players have mounted a thoroughly respectable production of the small-scale 1992 surprise hit "Falsettos."

One thing that helped boost this unconventional musical's popularity was a New York Times article by then-critic Frank Rich in which he described it as a family show and bolstered his opinion with comments from his two young sons.

"Falsettos" is about a family, though not a traditional one. The situation is presented in "A Tight-Knit Family," the ironic second number in this nearly all-sung musical. In the lead role of Marvin, ,, David Minges -- who delivers an impressively naturalistic, funny and appropriately angst-ridden performance -- explains that he has left his wife and son for another man.

Songwriter William Finn and playwright James Lapine created "Falsettos" by combining two of Finn's one-act musicals from a trilogy about Marvin. Act 1, originally titled "March of the Falsettos," consists primarily of Marvin's family's adjustments to its changed circumstances, which also include Marvin's ex-wife's marriage to his psychiatrist.

It's an entertaining act thanks to Finn's catchy, witty songs and the Vagabonds' spirited performances, directed by Terry J. Long. But it's in Act 2, originally called "Falsettoland," that the show moves beyond entertaining to poignant.

Two major conflicts occur in this act. The year is now 1981, and Marvin's lover, Whizzer, has come down with an unnamed disease. His doctor, who is also his lesbian neighbor, sings of her anguished attempts to treat "bachelors [who] arrive sick and frightened."

Meanwhile, Marvin's son, Jason, is preparing for his bar mitzvah -- a rite of passage he's not at all sure he wants to undergo, particularly since it is causing dissension between his parents. A bar mitzvah signifies the entry into manhood, and Jason's eventual decision proves not only that he's made the transition, but that he's more mature than many adults. Minges' understated portrayal of Marvin is at the core of the production, but he receives notable support from James Hunnicutt's smooth Whizzer (the role will be played by Deron Lovaas the last weekend of the run) and Linda M. Jones as the caring doctor. In addition, Kevin M. Korczynski and Pebble Kranz are fine as Jason and his mother. As the psychiatrist, Bill Kamberger's resemblance to the Freud cartoon on his T-shirt is stronger than his singing, but he redeems himself in the comic number, "Everyone Hates His Parents." And special praise goes to on-stage pianist Robert Gee.

"Falsettos" opens with a song called "Four Jews in a Room Bitching." The second act starts off with the lyric: "Homosexuals, women with children, short insomniacs and a teeny tiny band." This isn't standard musical comedy material, and if it isn't to your taste, perhaps you should stay home. But if you do, you'll be missing a show that proves that an affecting musical doesn't have to be a spectacle with a large cast and glitzy special effects; all it has to do is touch your heart.

THEATER REVIEW

What: "Falsettos"

Where: Vagabond Players, 806 S. Broadway

When: 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays (no performance Nov. 25); through Dec. 18

Tickets: $9 and $10

Call: (410) 563-9135

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