Falsettos – The Other Palace, London

Music & Lyrics: William Finn

Book: William Finn and James Lapine

Director: Tara Overfield-Wilkinson

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

It seems tough to believe that this marks the first time Falsettos has been performed in the UK. It’s a vibrant, funny, hectic and frenetic at times, celebratory and deeply moving musical that really deserves attention. Falsettos presents the last two parts of a trio of one act musicals (In Trousers, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland) with only the March of the Falsettos ever been seen on these shores before, in 1987. It feels like a musical a UK audience would absolutely love. So welcome, welcome to a show that a generation of British people may need an introduction to – you’ll not find finer.

As noted, there’s two shows really. One is a bit of a caper about a family unit breaking down and reforming, the other, an unblinking stare at the start of the AIDS horror in New York city.

We’re following along with Marvin and his new lover Whizzer, his ex wife Trina, his son Jason and his psychiatrist Mendel. What seems like a comfortable accommodation with an unusual situation – Marvin, Whizzer and Trina all getting along together – turns much more complex quite quickly and creates some heartwarming comedy, complete with audience wide belly laughs. The second act is a few years later, Whizzer and Marvin get back together, they find happiness, get some “spiky lesbians” as neighbours and friends, and then Whilzzer is diagnosed and quickly succumbs to the new killer in the gay community. AIDS is explored, the fear and harm communicated – resulting in a beautiful, sombre and resonant ending.

Written first at the end of the 1970’s, this was a musical that really made a mark on the gay community. Sharing stories of marital breakup because of homosexuality, sharing the realities of gay life – these seem completely normal now, and barely raise an eyebrow in most communities but then, it was radical. The impact of it may have been lost, but the human insight and storylines are still as enjoyable and relatable today as when freshly printed. Certainly, the razor sharp lyrics, zippy musicality and near perfect cast here will help.

Joel Montague as the psychiatrist (and Trina’s second husband) almost gets away with stealing the whole show, but Laura Pitt-Pulford as Trina is a godsend to the stage. Her performance of I’m breaking down could get the crowds into the stalls on its own. Nuanced, ballsy, confident performance from each of the other five separately (with special mention to the outstanding Albert Atack as one of four boys who play the part of Jason in turn), and as an ensemble, round it out to a backing of punchy, exciting music. The set from PJ McEvoy is a little bombastic and overweening, but not offensively so.

It’s more than just a fine musical. This is a living, breathing, singing and dancing piece of gay history and needs to be celebrated. We are not in the first nervous days of AIDS anymore, and gay rights have wildly improved – but pieces of art like this remind us all that nothing is complete, and there’s a lot worth fighting for. What a rush.

Runs until 23 November 2019 | Image: The Stand Out Company

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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