OREM — “Everything will be alright!” This line is repeated often throughout the second half of the musical Falsettos. After watching UVU’s opening night, I can confirm that this is an understatement. Everything is more than alright in this low-budget production of a captivating and clever musical. With outstanding performances, creative design choices, and excellent musical talent, Falsettos at UVU is a must-see.
With music and lyrics written by William Finn and a book by William Finn and James Lapine, Falsettos is a compilation of two one-act musicals that follow the life of the main character, Marvin. At the beginning of Act 1, March of the Falsettos, Marvin has recently left his wife and son for his lover, Whizzer. However, although Whizzer and Marvin share an extreme passion for each other, Marvin still struggles with his own feelings of anxiety around being an openly gay man. At the same time, the musical features his ex-wife Trina, who falls in love with his psychiatrist, Mendel. Set against the backdrop of being Jewish in 1979 New York City, the first act explores the feelings of each family member, even ten-year-old Jason, in this sticky situation.
The second act, Falsettoland, skips ahead to 1981, as the characters are joined by two “spiky lesbians” to battle the challenges of the AIDS epidemic. The show deals with many themes essential to queer theatre, as well as religion and family. It is a quick-witted comedy that impressively deals with many complex emotions. And by the end of the performance I saw, many tears were shed throughout the audience.
Falsettos is a demanding production, as it is completely sung-through, and with the small cast of seven, it is a feat to just keep up with the quick and complex lyrics. Preston Smith as Marvin gives an amazingly solid performance as the unlikeable leading man who has a soft heart at his core. Smith expertly supports every action and line with clear intention, resulting in a realistic and moving portrayal. Jonathan Francis proves hilarious as the sassy (yet sincere) Whizzer. The natural charm and charisma that Francis gives to Whizzer creates an even more effective tragedy for the character at the end of the show. Francis and Smith two harmonize physically and vocally throughout the show, creating a rich atmosphere of lust and eventually, love.
Haley Howe as young Jason stands out with her teenage boy mannerisms and comedic timing that consistently delighted me. Additionally, Howe’s vocal placement is stupendous, and she is just a pleasure to watch. Taytum Ligman as Trina is a consistent performer, her reliable characterization of a downtrodden housewife, only becoming delightfully unhinged in her show-stopper of a number, “I’m Breaking Down.” Tyer McCabe as Dr. Mendel complements Ligman and Howe well as the quirky psychiatrist. What McCabe lacks in vocal volume he makes up for in energy, exposing his fun flailing dance moves in multiple numbers.
The “lesbians from next door” enter in act two with a burst of energy and compassion that fills the theater. Yulissa Torres as Dr. Charlotte powerfully sings difficult middle-voice songs and makes it sound easy. Paola Guzman as Cordelia sweetly provides much needed comedic relief in many scenes. Torres and Guzman excel vocally, especially when they harmonize in their ballads together. (It was so good it made me say, “Mmmm,” aloud each time.)
While nearly all productions of Falsettos have a “teeny tiny band” by necessity of the score, UVU’s production might have beat them all out with Kevin Self being the sole musician the entire night. Self plays piano live to accompany the actors, an excellent decision that allows the piano to fill the space while also allowing flexibility to improvise with the actors, creating a dynamic and fun-filled atmosphere. It shows that Self, the music director Kiley Todd Drake, and all the actors devoted extensive time and energy to the music of this fast-paced musical, and it pays off big time.
Dominique Morrison’s direction of the musical and unique “memory play perspective” shines through with the use of photos in an album and cleverly hanging and being replaced on the curtain walls of the set as the show progresses. Additionally, even though the two and a half hour musical took place in a small, warm, black box theatre, there was a surprising number of lighting cues designed by Devon Parikh that made the space feel larger than it was, seamlessly separating characters’ locations across the set when needed. This was also true for the creative set design by Patch Olsen, composed of different solid colored blocks that formed the different pieces of furniture in each location, beautifully heralding the simplistic set of the recent revival production while bringing new ingenuity to it as well.
The worst thing about this production of Falsettos is that it lasts only three days, and the tickets for the remaining performances are sold out. The music, design, and cast shine through in this production at UVU and create a special experience for those lucky enough to see it.