"March of the Falsettos"

by Barry Drogin

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September 15, 1981

There is something like a miracle going on on 42nd Street. It is the Playwrights Horizons production of "March of the Falsettos," the second "Marvin musical" (more on that later) written and composed by William Finn.

In a summer's worth of movie and theatre going, I have been continually possessed by time inconsistencies. A minute is no longer a minute. "Raiders of the Lost Ark," for example, whizzes by so breathlessly that when the ark gets opened at the end I am sure that only a half hour has passed and Indiana Jones will go running off to Siberia or some such. At the other extreme, "March of the Falsettos" is so full of invention and dramatic intensity that you'd think it would take twice its short 65-minute duration.

The show is not about castrati or mouseketeers, but about Marvin, first introduced in "In Trousers" (also originating from Playwrights Horizons), who has left his wife and kid for a homosexual lover. Whereas "In Trousers" dealt with Marvin from an adolescent teacher crush through to this event, "March of the Falsettos" picks up after the divorce; Marvin is living with his lover, and everyone is seeing psychiatrist Mendel, who eventually runs off with Marvin's ex-wife.

With no spoken dialogue to speak of (sorry), "March of the Falsettos" is a contemporary one-act opera (the marvelously voiced cast of four renews my belief in the existence of fine singing actors). The stage is kept bare except for movable props that suggest a dining room, psychiatrist's office, etc., so that scene changes and combinations can flash by in an instant. At one moment Mendel is trying to propose to Marvin's ex-wife (he's better than a horse or zebra, he assures her), at the next moment Marvin is trying to play chess with his stupid lover ("Move a pawn," he insists as the lover tries to move his queen on the first move).

The lyrics are bright, refreshing, well-constructed, and often hilarious; the music is not afraid of choral harmonies, odd meters or polyphony, yet is enormously attractive and undeniably Broadway- based. If you fall in love with the score, by all means buy the record to "In Trousers," which is just as good.

The show, which has been selling out all summer, has extended its run into September.

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Last Updated: November 5, 2007