The Other Palace, London – until Saturday, November 23, 2019
If ever there was a triumph of delivery over content, then this first London production of the New York Jewish musical Falsettos is it. Everything about its production – the performances, the band, the direction – is so impeccable that review is rendered hardly necessary.
It’s unfortunate that so-called ‘Falsettogate’ has dogged the production with claims of cultural misappropriation because of the lack of any Jews in its construction. While it’s hard to argue with that, what is never in doubt is the quality of the performances that are on display in a tightly-knit sextet of adults and one star turn from a child.
Essentially, Falsettos is a family comedy with a twist (or several). It focuses on Marvin, who leaves his wife and child for another man, Whizzer. The story plays with the quirky relationships between this group, plus the family’s psychiatrist Mendel, who becomes personally involved to add another layer of complexity. If I tell you that the opening number is called ‘Four Jews in a Room Bitching’, you’ll get some idea of the tone.
But while the tale is packed with cultural idiosyncrasies, comic songs and smart asides, it doesn’t quite have the lyrical, narrative or musical sharpness to work as a fully-rounded piece. When you learn it’s been cobbled together from three pre-existing one-act musicals, it makes more sense, but there’s something about the sudden gratuitous appearance of a lesbian couple next door at the start of Act Two, then the distinctly downbeat turn that things take, lurching tonally in a whole new direction, that undermines the bite which the show could deliver.
With those gripes out of the way, let’s return to those stunning performances. Daniel Boys holds things together as Marvin, a constantly neurotic, effervescent personality with vocal bravura to match his acting talents. Laura Pitt-Pulford is just as impressive as his ex-wife Trina, devastatingly funny and powerful in her first-act solo ‘I’m Breaking Down’.
Oliver Savile is almost too nice as Marvin’s love interest Whizzer, giving little hint of the characteristics that drive Marvin crazy, but he’s also in fine voice and has a twinkle in his eye. Joel Montague as the shrink gets to play it for laughs, and milks every opportunity from it in the process. In the performance I saw, Elliot Morris played Jason, the family’s young son who has to deal with the madness around him and somehow stay sane. Morris is utterly compelling, doing comedy, pathos and patter songs with equal verve and an alarming amount of confidence to go with his abilities.
The small band under MD Richard John generates a fabulous, controlled sound, and Tara Overfield-Wilkinson’s astute direction and choreography never interferes with the storytelling while adding just the right amount of pizzazz to a show that never flags in pace.
It may be mired in controversy off-stage, but the quality of the on-stage work is undeniable.