By Joanne Engelhardt
A strange musical production with an equally strange history is currently on stage at The Pear Theatre in Mountain View.
Falsettos is an impressive undertaking for a small theatre which seldom offers musicals in its season. First, there’s a four-piece band, led by conductor Val Zvinyatskovsky, playing in a tiny second-story balcony. That’s a good thing, except that for some of the songs, the musicians played so loud so that singers’ voices could not be heard.
The unique shape of The Pear means that viewers sometimes all sit on the north side of the building, sometimes all on the south side and sometimes on three sides. Director Janie Scott apparently decided to have three rows of seats on the north and two on the south.
…Most everything is conveyed by song…
Bad choice. For some parts of Falsettos a performer is singing only to those on the north side, while for other songs, most of the song gets sung to people on the south side. Why would anyone want to see the back side of a singer?
There are numerous other issues with this production, but the core cast of actors makes it marginally enjoyable. Key among them is young Russell Nakagawa, as Jason, who “ages” from 10 to 13 by play’s end. Nakagawa’s clear, clean voice is fine, but it’s his earnest, complex acting that is a wonder to see in someone so young.
Tyler Savin is almost always believable as Marvin, Jason’s father, who loves his son but who has realized that he also loves a man, even when some of the things he does makes him difficult to like. Savin possesses the best voice in the cast, which helps tremendously as Marvin is deeply conflicted and must convey that in many songs and duets.
Most of the time Jen Wheatonfox (as Jason’s mother and Marvin’s wife Trina) doesn’t quite pull off the gravitas needed in this role. Instead, Wheatonfox seems to simply go with the flow, whatever it is. She ends up with Marvin’s psychiatrist Mendel (a bland Kyle Herrera) and mostly smiles for the remainder of the show.
As Whizzer, Brad Satterwhite seems perfectly suited as Marvin’s lover, although it’s not really clear how he ends up becoming the one Jason confides in. But his slight body built makes him physically right to play a man who contracts AIDS and goes through the agonies of that disease.
Only theatregoers who are familiar with how Falsettos came to be a two-act play may accept the two characters who come in after intermission. Both are superfluous, although Angie Alvarez, as Whizzer’s doctor, gets the chance to show off her lovely voice in several songs.
There are actually approximately twenty songs in Act 1 and seventeen in Act 2. As a play designed as a sung-thru musical (that is, a production in which songs entirely or almost entirely replace any spoken dialogue) most everything is conveyed by song. “Everyone Hates His Parents,” “Something Bad is Happening,” “You Gotta Die Sometime,” “Thrill of First Love,” “I Never Wanted to Love You” and the comical Act 1 opener, “Four Jews in a Room Bitching,” are all excellent.
Overall, Falsettos clearly could have been better directed and improved by toning down the musicians, but its exploration of both Jewish culture and 1980s’ gay culture just might make it worth seeing.
Aisle Seat Executive Reviewer Joanne Engelhardt is a Peninsula theatre writer and critic. She is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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