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Theater Review: NCC ‘Falsettos’ returns to another era

Northampton Community College Summer Theater’s production of “Falsettos” provides an opportunity to explore what was in its time breakthrough-theater in style and subject.

The musical, through June 30, Norman Roberts Lab Theatre, Kopecek Hall, NCC Green Pond Campus, is a two-act compilation of three one-act off-Broadway musicals: “Trousers,” 1979; “March of the Falsettos,” 1982, and “Falsettoland,” 1985. The musical was seen June 20 for this review.

“Falsettos” was nominated for seven Tony Awards when it premiered on Broadway in 1992, including Book (William Finn, James Lapine) and Original Score (Finn).

Often referred to as the Marvin trilogy, “Falsettos” is about a dysfunctional Jewish family in New York City.

In the first act (“March of the Falsettos”), it is 1979 and Marvin, the father, has left his wife Trina for a man named Whizzer, who is ambivalent about the relationship.

Marvin’s 10-year-old son Jason acts out because he fears he may also be gay. Complicating matters is psychiatrist Mendel, who winds up marrying Trina.

The second act is set in 1981 (“Falsettoland”), and two new neighbors are introduced, the parents plan for Jason’s bar mitzva, Marvin and Whizzer are still trying to resolve their relationship, and the subject of AIDS is introduced (“Something Bad is Happening”), although the illness is never called by its name because it hadn’t yet been identified.

Director Bill Mutimer has taken on a formidable task in terms of subject matter, the need to strike the right balance between humor and poignancy, and assuring that relationships on stage ring true. For the most part, he has accomplished all of this. In particular, he handles the intimate scenes with propriety and dignity.

Stephen Peters, as Marvin, is every inch the charming, but selfish and self-absorbed character. He wants to have his cake (“A Tight-Knit Family”) and eat it, too. Peters succeeds in showing that side or Marvin, as well as his more vulnerable side.

Kennedy Kanagawa is wholly convincing as the ambivalent Whizzer, weathering the on-again, off-again love affair with Marvin (“The Games I Play”). He manages beautifully Whizzer’s emotional turnings as his connections with the other characters gradually change and he faces his future.

It is essential to believe that Marvin and Whizzer are a couple. Both actors are up to the challenge.

Hannah Keim is delightful as the discarded wife Trina, who blames herself for not being a good enough wife. She is adept at using facial expressions and hand gestures, as well as reacting to the other players on stage. Her solo (“I’m Breaking Down”) rises to a hilarious crescendo and ends in a dance split that is priceless.

Trina’s droll psychiatrist and soon-to-be husband, Mendel, is played by Skip Robinson, who keeps up with the best of them. In the case of Trina and Mendel, the love-and-marriage relationship doesn’t ring true, but this a deficiency in the writing, not the acting. Love (“A Marriage Proposal”) comes too fast, and settles into routine too soon.

Todd Croslis, as the young son Jason, is the epitome of a child too smart for his own good (“My Father’s a Homo”). He plays well off the other actors, and has some impressive scenes with Marvin (“Father to Son”) and Mendel (“Everyone Hates His Parents”).

Rounding out the cast, but appearing only in the second act are Kate Pistone (Dr. Charlotte) and Emma Gerstein (Cordelia). Although the introduction of their characters seems abrupt and not wholly necessary except to provide a doctor who notices that people are getting sick, Pistone’s and Gerstein’s portrayals project a relationship that has warmth and charm.

The score of “Falsettos” is intricate, almost opera-like, with actors often singing over each other in a complexity mirroring their own lives.

Katherine Kaiser does an exceptional job of conducting the four-piece orchestra. Musicians are Julius Sarkozy, keyboard I; Snow Du, keyboard II; Kyle Hummel, reeds, and James Arrizza, Jr., drums.

Brett Oliveira works his magic again with scenic and lighting design. His colorful set features a row of evocative doorways that are both functional and figurative.

Beyond being an important historic glimpse into where we once were, so that we can judge how far we have come, “Falsettos’” focus on relationships and family is timeless.

Tickets: Lipkin Theatre Box Office, Northampton Community College, Main Campus, 3835 Green Pond Road, Bethlehem Township; ncctix.org; 484-484-3412