Elden Street Players FalsettosBy Amanda Lipon • Mar 23rd, 2009 • Category: Reviews
Elden Street Players
Industrial Strength Theatre, Herndon, VA
$22/$19 Seniors and Students
Playing through April 4th
Reviewed March 20th, 2009
Falsettos is a difficult musical to like. It explores the intensely intimate thoughts of a dysfunctional family learning to, well, function, and coping with the early days of the AIDs epidemic. The characters are real (and by that, I mean really flawed), the subject matter is heavy and the set is sparse (like the antipodal version of, “Our Town” set to music). And yet, with its often beautiful songs and the intense feelings that the characters have for each other, the show has a chance at getting under the audiences’ collective skin, to make them think, care, and even enjoy. The Elden Street Players’ production of Falsettos had some striking and engaging moments, but, overall, was not entirely successful at overcoming the inherent difficulties of the musical.
The play is a story of Marvin, a neurotic Jew who struggles to maintain one big, happy family, even after he left his wife for another man. Marvin in particular is a hard character to like. He is selfish and self-absorbed, controlling and needy. His saving grace, however, is in the love he has for his son, Jason, and his love/hate passion for his paramour, Whizzer. Harv Lester, as Marvin, brought a gorgeous tenor voice to the role. His shining moment of the evening was his quiet, intimate love tribute to Whizzer (What More Can I Say) but, overall, he struggled to connect with the characters. Most of his scenes with Whizzer were awkward and his interactions with the rest of the characters emoted too much pain and anger.
John Loughney‘s performance as Whizzer strikes the best balance of the evening in portraying true emotions in an animated way without seeming over-the-top (a particularly challenging task in the intimate setting of ESP’s blackbox theater). Louhgney’s Whizzer is truly charming in a way that makes you believe he could win the affections of Jason and Trina (characters who would be predisposed to dislike him) and his voice is stellar.
Keith J. Miller, as Mendel (Marvin’s psychiatrist who, in the course of providing therapy to the family, falls for Marvin’s ex-wife, Trina) tended to veer to the side of over-acting, although he brings a desperately needed light-heartedness to the First Act and his efforts to connect with Jason as a stepfather are funny and sometimes moving. Amy K. Cropper, as Trina, possesses a clear, lovely soprano voice and conveys sincere affection for Jason and (oddly enough) for Whizzer, but occasionally comes off as too sedate. The song, Breaking Down, for example, has the potential to be a side-splitting, bring-down-the-house number, and she played it just a little too coolly (although this may have been, in part, due to the directorial choice of keeping her behind the kitchen table for the entire song).
Wesley Coleman takes on the incredibly challenging role of Jason, Marvin and Trina’s eleven-year-old son. Coleman’s Vienna-Boys-Choir-voice rings true throughout the play, although a word or two gets lost in the mouthful of braces. While he hasn’t quite mastered convincing and sincere sorrow, he holds his own with the grown-ups in this very grown-up play and shows a wisdom and acting skill well beyond his tender years.
Kat Brais and Katie Wanschura round out the cast, playing Charlotte and Cordelia, the lesbian couple from next door. They bring energy and brightness to the Second Act, and provide warmer, more intricate harmonies to the songs. Both characters benefit from being less complex and introspective than the others, allowing the actors to portray their intentions more truly. Wanschura demonstrates charming enthusiasm while Brais shows tender affection towards her lover and her friends using her mellow alto voice.
The show’s overall strength came from the voices of its cast, who maneuvered through the difficult, sometimes discordant, harmonies of the songs beautifully (bravo to musical director Elisa Rosman). The best scenes of the night were The Baseball Game, which had me laughing out loud, and Unlikely Lovers, which brought tears to my eyes. In these scenes, each character intently focused on his or her feelings and desires toward another character, as opposed to engaging in the sometimes tedious and uninteresting introspection that occurs throughout the musical.
In this chaotic world, people weave in and out of our lives on a daily basis. Many of these people shape who we become as our friends, and, every so often if we are lucky, we find those unique individuals who become more than just friends. They become family. Family isn’t defined simply by blood relations. Family is defined by bonds created through compassion, struggle, and love as we lreate to one another. Falsettos chronicles some of these events in life that show us just how important family is to our everyday existence. This show explores the bonds that tie one particular family together during a tumultuous period from 1979 until 1981. I’m graeful that you have chosen to take this journey with us as we explore what it means to be a family that defies convention. As Falsettos shows, at the end of the day, it is those people who support us, love us, and fight with us that we call family — regardless of gender, age or societal expectations.
- Marvin: Harv Lester
- Whizzer: John Loughney
- Mendel: Keith J. Miller
- Jason: Wesley Coleman
- Trina: Amy K. Cropper
- Charlotte: Kat Brais
- Cordelia: Katie Wanschura
- Reeds: Dana Gardener, Gwynn Jones
- Drums: Arthur Garrison
- Keyboard: Brian Victor
- Keyboard/Conductor: Elisa Rosman
- Producer: John Segota
- Director: Christopher Smith
- Technical Director: Jeff Boatright
- Music Director: Elisa Rosman
- Choreographer: Christopher Smith
- Stage Manager: Joan A.S. Lada
- Assistant Stage Manager: Larissa Norris
- Set Designer/Set Painting Designer: Christopher Smith
- Master Carpenter: Marty Sullivan
- Set Painting: Jeff Boatright, Kay Brais, Megan Graytak, John Segota
- Set Construction/Load-In Crew: Jeff Boatright, Theresa Bender, Phillip Archey, Caitlyn Sullivan, Mike Schlabach, Bill Behan, Christopher Smith, Jason Langley, Marci Finkelstein, Kat Brais, John Segota, Joan A.S. Lada, Adam Carpenter, Barbara Carpenter, Dan Rossman
- Set Dressing/Properties: Jane Bordeaux
- Lighting Design: AnnMarie Castrigno
- Light Board Operator: AnnMarie Castrigno, Steve Lada, Erin Lada
- Sound Design: Stan Harris
- Costume Design/Coordination: Irene Molnar
- Hair/Make-up: Kat Brais
- House Management: Dave Sinclair
- Box Office Management: Melody Fetske
- Publicity: Rich Klare, Ginger Kohles
- Playbill: Ginger Kohles
- Audition Pianist: Brian Victor
- Auditions: Jason Langley, Irene Molnar, Joan A.S. Lada, Susannah Todd
- Photography: Jeff Boatright
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Amanda Lipon is an attorney by day and true theater amateur by night, having participated in a variety of roles both on and off the stage (mostly for free). Favorite credits include Anne in A Little Night Music (Quadramics), Mrs. Walker in Tommy (Pennsylvania Players) and Mona Stanley in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (Quadramics). Amanda was seen most recently as Irene in Crazy for You, presented by the Pickwick Players.