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Theatre / Falsettos

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Father with children,
One bar mitzvah that
Is scrupulously planned.
Lovers come and lovers go,
Lovers fight and sing fortissimo
Give these handsome boys a hand
Welcome to Falsettoland!"
Company, "Falsettoland"

Falsettos is a musical with music by William Finn and book by Finn and James Lapine. The show is an amalgamation of the latter two musicals in Finn's "Marvin Trilogy": March of the Falsettos (which was first performed off-Broadway in 1981) and Falsettoland (first performed in 1990). The two plays are preceded by In Trousers, which is not included in Falsettos. The show opened on Broadway in 1992, starring Michael Rupert as Marvin, Barbara Walsh as Trina and Stephen Bogardus as Whizzer. It closed in 1993 after 587 performances. In the Fall of 2016, Falsettos was revived for a limited run through January 2017 starring Christian Borle as Marvin, Stephanie J. Block as Trina and Andrew Rannells as Whizzer.

March of the Falsettos centers on Marvin, a neurotic gay Jewish man in 1979 New York. He has recently divorced his wife, Trina, and left his child, Jason, to be with his lover, Whizzer, an attractive younger man. Trina starts seeking treatment from Marvin's psychiatrist, Mendel and the two eventually fall for each other. Marvin expects both Trina and Whizzer to serve his needs and be loyal to him, an attitude that leaves him alone, trying to salvage his relationship with his son.


Falsettoland jumps ahead to 1981 where the characters, along with Marvin's neighbors, Charlotte, an esteemed doctor and Cordelia, a kosher caterer, come together to plan Jason's bar mitzvah, though their plans are quickly interrupted by the looming AIDS crisis.

Falsettos contains examples of:

  • All Gays are Promiscuous:
    • Whizzer.
    • Somewhat averted with Marvin. In Trousers informs us that Whizzer was the first man he ever slept with. It's even implied in Act II that he doesn't sleep with anyone else during the two years they are apart.
  • All Gays Love Theatre: The beginning of act II has Mendel come out with flashlights and point to subjects when he sings about them. The first lyrics is "homosexuals". He points toward the audience.
  • All Jews Are Ashkenazi:
    • Though not written explicitly, all of the characters are coded as Ashkenazi. The revival gave Mendel the last name "Weisenbachfeld."
    • Advertisement:
    • All of the foods which Cordelia cooks are Ashkenazi.
    • In the Act II opener, "Falsettoland", the group are described as "Yiddish-Americans", which more or less confirms that they're Ashkenazi.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Most of the main cast, most notably Jason and Marvin.
    • Jason is heavily implied throughout Act 1 to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. He is highly intelligent for his age, but is unsure how to act in social situations, tends to fixate on specific interests, and in the revival, is shown covering his ears and looking quite distressed in one of the many scenes in which his parents yell at each other.
    • Marvin (and to a much lesser extent, Whizzer and possibly Trina) shows many signs of various personality disorders, though none of them perfectly fit any one DSM diagnosis.
    • Mendel also may suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: In the revival, Cordelia's title was changed from "kosher caterer" to "Shiksa caterer"note  . Although the term Shiksa can simply refer to any non-Jewish woman, in accordance with the above trope, it has generally come to be used to refer to a Gentile woman who marries a Jewish man, with the implication that she is trying to tempt him away from his faith. Her partner, Dr. Charlotte, is never explicitly referred to as Jewish in the text, but this change seems to imply that she is intended to be.
  • Awkward Father-Son Bonding Activity: Marvin describes a few in his attempts to connect to Jason in the third part of "Marvin at the Psychiatrist (A Three-Part Mini Opera)."
  • BSoD Song: "Marvin Hits Trina"
  • But Not Too Gay: Marvin is committed to presenting himself as masculine. In his relationship with Whizzer, he must be the breadwinner while Whizzer and Trina cook for him, he refers to Whizzer's interest in fashion as "dreck," and his competitive streak leads to him dumping Whizzer after the latter wins at chess.
  • Cast Full of Gay: Four out of the seven characters are gay.
  • Coming of Age Story: Jason
  • Coming-Out Story: Notably averted - all of the gay characters seem to be out.
  • Dark Reprise: "Another Miracle of Judaism," "Falsettoland (Reprise)" and "More Racquetball"
  • Dysfunctional Family
  • Final Love Duet: "What Would I Do"
  • First Law of Tragicomedies
  • Foregone Conclusion: That Marvin and/or Whizzer would contract HIV, and likely die of some AIDS-related illness. The second act does take place in 1981 after all.
  • "I Want" Song: "A Tight-Knit Family"
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Although Act I has Marvin veering well into Jerkass territory, by the end he fully embodies this trope.
  • Jewish and Nerdy: Jason would rather stay home and play chess than socialize. Later, the company bemoans that his all-Jewish baseball team is better at "reading Latin" than actually playing baseball.
  • Jewish Complaining: The opening song, "Four Jews in a Room Bitching," is all about this trope.
  • Jewish Mother: Trina
  • Jews Love to Argue: Most of Marvin's interactions in the first act and the first half of the second act are spent arguing.
  • Like Father, Unlike Son: In "My Father's a Homo," Jason, at age 10, worries that he, like his father, will also turn out to be gay. At age 12, Jason sings "Miracle of Judaism" which proves that in this regard, he is nothing like his father.
  • No Antagonist: While Marvin is around terrible enough to be logically seen as the bad guy in Act I (as well as the original March of the Falsettos), the second half of the play focuses entirely on the oncoming of Jason's bar mitzvah, which is complicated by Whizzer's case of AIDS.
  • Opposites Attract: Marvin and Whizzer admit that the only thing they have in common is a love for arguing.
  • Parental Love Song: "Father to Son"
  • Parental Substitute: Whizzer to Jason. Initially, Jason purposefully annoys his parents by going to Whizzer for advice rather than listening to his biological parents. By the end, it's clear that both love each other as if they were family.
  • The Patriarch: This is how Marvin sees himself, especially in Act I. The rest of the characters don't always regard him in the same way.
  • The Song Before the Storm: Either "What More Can I Say?" or "Something Bad Is Happening", depending on where you draw the line.
  • "They've Come So Far" Song: Pretty much any song with Marvin and Whizzer after they get back together, but special mention goes to "What More Can I Say?" and "Racquetball".
  • Quarreling Song: "Year of the Child" and "Round Tables, Square Tables" in the off-Broadway Falsettoland which became "The Fight" in Falsettos.
    • Also "Thrill Of First Love" and "Tight-Knit Family (Reprise)".
  • Queer Romance: Marvin/Whizzer and Charlotte/Cordelia.
  • Real Men Hate Affection: This was mostly played straight with Marvin and Whizzer in the original production, but is averted in the revival.
  • Running Gag: In the revival, one is made of Cordelia being the only non-Jewish character in the show. Special attention is paid to her inability to pronounce 'gefilte fish' despite being a caterer specializing in Jewish cuisine.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: "I'm Breaking Down," which also happens to be the Show Stopper.
  • Set Switch Song: "Holding to the Ground" as the set is changed to Whizzer's hospital room. Also serves as The Eleven O'Clock Number.
    • To a lesser extent, "Miracle of Judaism" covers the change from Marvin's house to the stands for "The Baseball Game."
  • Shotgun Wedding: implied about Trina and Marvin's marriage in "I Never Wanted to Love You"
    Trina: Our hands were tied
    My father cried
    'You'll marry!'
    We married!
  • Sung-Through Musical: Although there is some spoken dialogue, it's all brief and and vastly outnumbered by the singing in each scene.
  • Tragic AIDS Story: Act 2 becomes this, with Whizzer succumbing to AIDS by the end of the show. Notably, the disease is never called as such due to the 1981 setting, but is generally understood to be this. By extension, Marvin is implied to have contracted HIV from Whizzer, and may have died not long after the end of the show.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In Trousers, the first part of the "Marvin Trilogy" which didn't make it into Falsettos, introduced several characters from Marvin's past, as well as alluding to Marvin and Trina's second child and a pet parakeet, none of whom are ever heard from again.