Keeping the conversation going at Rarely Done

The cast of 'Falsettoland.' Photo: Ty Marshal Falsettoland  Who Rarely Done Productions Where 441 E. Washington St., Syracuse When Through April 19 Tickets $20 Review by Josh Austin 

Falsettoland is like to channeling the curious childlike façades of Never Neverland or stumbling down into Wonderland; it’s charmingly plastic.

Our imaginations have helped make these places wooingly exotic, breeding Technicolor hypnotics and containing warm-hearted, welcoming beasts. Still, Wendy and Alice couldn’t stay innocently copacetic for long. There’s always a war brewin’, but we know how these stories happily end.

Rarely Done Production’s 70-minute musical, Falsettoland, written by William Finn and James Lapine, is a very grown-up and realistic take on the adventurous notion of the surreal. Instead of rabbits who talk and boys who fly, we’re left with a resounding welcome from “homosexuals, women with children, a ‘teeny tiny band’ and one bar mitzvah.”

And, not to mention, “Gay cancer.”

Set in 1981, Falsettoland is the final installment of Finn and Lapine’s trilogy, documenting the life of the recently out-of-the-closet father Marvin (played by a sympathetic, warming Peter Irwin). The first two acts, “In Trousers” and “The March of the Falsettos,” show Marvin’s desperate struggle to pull his life together, which includes dealing with a ex-wife and a son (soon to become a man), as well as his ex-lover Whizzer (a charming, incredibly likeable Dana Sovocool).

It’s in this final act that life seems to be coming around for Marvin: He and his wife Trinia (Katie Lemos Brown) seem to be getting along, Marvin has forgiven his psychiatrist Mendel (Justin Bird) for moving in on his family, and he and Whizzer are reunited. All appears well. It’s not until during a game of racquetball that Falsettoland starts to unravel. Whizzer is sick.

Although today any mention of AIDS is met with feigned interest, in 1981, the virus was just starting to burgeon. And though the audience can instantly recognize what is happening to Whizzer, the characters are still very much left in the dark.

Welcome to Falsettoland.

This musical was produced and hailed on Broadway in 1990; it was the glittery precursor to Rent. And in the early ‘90s, which was still very much still reeling in the hysteria of AIDS, Falsettoland was pointing audience’s attention to exactly where it should be.

Living in 'Falsettoland,' the cast watches a normal, Jewish baseball game. Photo: Ty Marshal

And though AIDS might not be in the spotlight anymore, the ever-present issue of homosexuality is. This show is a fundraiser for Friends of Dorothy House, a caring home run by Michael DeSalvo and Nick Orth, who provide hospice care for individuals who are suffering with AIDS. DeSalvo pointed out during the curtain speech that while the conversation of AIDS might have faded, the presence has certainly not.

Rarely Done has also produced a show that is in tandem with the dialogue of gay marriage, and though in this show, gay marriage is a long ways off, the growth of Trinia accepting her ex-husband’s lover, hits home.

Like a lighthearted follies performance, Falsettoland’s whimsical score is vibrant, keeping the character’s moods set somewhere between fake smile and waned interest. The musical brings a familiarity: Marvin, bickering with his ex and dealing with his soon-to-be-a-man son Jason (played by a talented Maxwell Zirkman, who aptly portrays a 12-year-old stuck in a 30-year-old body, though he still has those pre-teen struggles, we get the song “Everyone Hates His Parents”), seems, at worst, like life-ending problems for these characters. Well, that is, until the Internist Dr. Charlotte (a serious, caring Shannon Tompkins) sings, “Something Bad is Happening.” 

With the aid of Dan Tursi’s delicate direction, the happy performance quickly turns to shattering realizations. The cast of seven tragically melds to deliver a tragically beautiful story that is still only in its first couple of chapters. And, it seems, that each chapter always .

Like Peter who never wanted to grow up, or the pesky little rabbit in that was always running late, Falsettoland’s characters crave more time too.