WHERE Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St.
INFO $42-$149; 877-250-2929; lct.org
BOTTOM LINE Hilarious, deeply moving revival about AIDS and so much more
Almost a quarter of an eventful century has roiled the country since “Falsettos” broke ground as Broadway’s first — and, in my experience, still the only — musical tragicomedy about AIDS. The show remains brave and hilarious, a charming and deeply moving treasure. Make that two shows, created in 1981 and 1990 as separate one-acts by director/co-author James Lapine and composer/lyricist/co-author William Finn, then melded into one evening.
The first act, set in 1979, introduces us to Marvin (here Christian Borle), your average neurotic yuppie who leaves nice homemaking wife Trina (Stephanie J. Block) and son Jason (Anthony Rosenthal) for a man named Whizzer (Andrew Rannells), who leaves him, while Trina marries Marvin’s psychiatrist, Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz).
That first half feels very sweet but a little naive these days, somewhat of a period piece without all the rich sadness and lyric maturity of what comes later. But then . . . bam! In the second act, set in 1981, the lesbian doctor next door (Tracie Thoms) sings in heart-stopping patter, “Something bad is happening . . . ,” to her lover, the caterer (Betsy Wolfe) about a virus nobody’s talking about.
For all that line portends, however, this is not merely about pain and loss. It’s about bliss and completion, about families and laughter, about grown-ups with real hearts and lives that didn’t exactly fit. Even through our prism of massive social change, the impact is as human and psychologically compelling as — if you’ll excuse the simplicity — hope and love and excellent jokes.
Obviously, we are in overtly manipulative territory here — a kid, a bar mitzvah, nonstop yuppie angst. But Finn matches his jaunty and vaudevillian, then haunting, music to enormously quotable, conversational lyrics that catch in the throat as often as they stick in the mind. The characters watch “Jewish boys, who cannot play baseball, play baseball.” Trina, an oddly ’50s kind of wife, summons weariness for “all the happy men who rule the world . . . all the happy, frightened men, the stupid charming men . . . ” And in an emotional killer of an anthem, the two gay couples sing, “Let’s be scared together, let’s pretend that nothing is awful.”
Although it’s hard to separate these characters from the original actors, the cast is terrific. Borle brings out more of Marvin’s “want it all” selfishness and Rannells is more of a hunk. Lapine’s direction is finely calibrated to be showy without being show-bizzy and, though David Rockwell’s modular foam set pieces and silhouetted Manhattan skyline can get a bit monotonous, they support the passion by getting out of the play’s powerful way.