I never wanted to love you, Falsettos.
As a matter of fact, I was expecting that my trip to the Ahmanson to see this show that I barely knew of was going to end with me being mildly entertained and perhaps I’d walk away with a new song or two to add to my Musical Theatre playlist.
I was wrong. I ended up seeing the show four times over two weeks.
Let me back up to how I first heard of Falsettos. Other than a passing look at the 2016 Broadway Revival’s performance at the Tony’s, I’d never really known much about the show. It’s title was one that I knew was a show that existed, but it didn’t seem to fit the range of shows I’m usually drawn to. I had no idea of it’s plot, theme, or characters.
A few months ago, while listening to my Vocal Lessons playlist on Spotify (which consists primarily of male musical theatre songs and one Alanis Morissette song) the songs I had added to the playlist ended, and Spotify started playing songs that I “might like too.” I skipped past most of them after the first verse.
But then “The Games I Play” from Falsettos came on. And I was captivated. I gave it an immediate replay, and was so excited to find a musical theatre song sung by a gay male character about the not-so-beautiful aspects of relationships and love. I text my vocal coach right away and told her that I desperately wanted to learn this song. Within weeks, it quickly became my most favorite song to practice and explore and learn.
Also within weeks I came to the realization that Falsettos was playing at the Ahmanson. I had looked up some performances of the show on YouTube, and found the filmed Broadway performance, but for some reason, I couldn’t connect to it enough to make it through a sitting of watching it. So I had my doubts that I would enjoy seeing Falsettos live. However, I’ve been seeing SO. MUCH. MUSICAL. THEATRE. in the last three years thanks to my season tickets to the Pantages, and I’ve learned that even with shows that I don’t end up loving, I can usually walk away appreciating some element of them (except Cats. I will never pay to see Cats again.)
I approached a friend who had season tickets, and asked if he wouldn’t mind buying a discounted ticket for me. He agreed to, and I had my ticket all set. It was, however, a balcony seat, and I’ve gotten kind of used to seeing shows close up thanks to my Pantages tickets. So I explored StubHub to see if I could find something a little closer.
I ended up finding seats on a different date in the 8th row, and thanks to an expiring StubHub gift card, I bought the tickets.
The night of the first of four times I saw the show, I had no idea what to expect. I knew the basics: gay characters, Jewish characters, a kid (not always my favorite thing about a show), and EDEN ESPINOSA. I had previously seen Eden Espinosa as “Elphaba” in Wicked and as “Maureen” in a filmed version of RENT: Live On Broadway. I’ve been a huge fan of hers and was super excited to see her again.
I was also excited to see “The Games I Play” performed live by someone who seemed not only super talented, but according to his Instagram, was also super gorgeous. I’m pretty easy that way!
Anyway, as the show began, I was immediately drawn into the story of Marvin and Whizzer, and Trina and Mendel, and Jason, and the Lesbians From Next Door. I found myself with a giant grin while watching the show, when I wasn’t sniffing and wiping away tears.
Eden Espinosa’s performance of “I’m Breaking Down” was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. Ever. I wanted to stand up and give her a standing ovation afterwards, but it didn’t feel like proper theatre ettiqutte.
Nick Adams’ performance of “The Games I Play” was so beautiful and bittersweet and evocative and everything I wanted it to be. And I loved watching his journey as he took Whizzer from being an arrogant jerk to almost being the heart of the show.
I say “almost” because, for me, the role of “heart of the show” belongs to Mendel, as played by Nick Blaemire. Nick Blaemire totally gives EVERYTHING onstage. His physicality, his singing, his acting, his dancing…his FEELING. He makes the character of Mendel such an empathetic character who feels everything and feels it in the biggest most genuine way possible. It was a delight to watch his performance, and I feel like I learned so much as an actor from him.
Honestly, I learned so much from everyone in the cast.
Max Von Essen took the role of “Marvin,” who could have easily been played as a narcissistic and selfish asshole, and instead made him feel like a real flawed human. I believed his hurt and pain and jealousy. I felt relieved when he found happiness. I felt grief when he did.
Bryonha Marie Parham and Audrey Cardwell as the Lesbians From Next Door, took the limited time that we got to spend with their characters (who don’t appear in Act 1) and made theaudience feel so connected and invested in them. Their performance during “Something Bad Is Happening” was epic. They made me want more of them.
And then there were the actors who played “Jason.” I usually don’t like children in shows, because there’s often times a bit of over-the-top “theatre kid” vibes that I can’t get past. Not with the two boys who played “Jason.”
The first actor I saw the first two times, Thatcher Jacobs, brought a softness and vulnerability to the role, and it made me want to go up and give him a hug letting him know that he’d be okay.
The second actor I saw, Jonah Mussolino, was just as incredible, and brought a highlight to the character’s anger and frustration.
I hope both of these boys go on to big, big things.
After the first time I saw the show, my friend Sarah and I looked at each other and were so emotionally spent by the last two and a half hours. It was a feeling that I yearn for when I go to see a show.
Part of what was so emotional for me was seeing two gay characters who weren’t stereotypes or characterizations that I couldn’t relate to. These guys felt the things I’ve felt. They sang the songs I’ve sung in my head. They hurt my hurt and laughed my laughs. I’d never seen a musical, other than Rent, with gay male leads, singing songs about being in love and all of it’s complications and nuances. I felt represented for the first time in a musical. That was a profound feeling because I didn’t have to assign a female character’s song to my emotions or have to search for the gay subtext or anything like that. And that was something I didn’t even know I’d been missing.
We stayed after to meet the actors at the Stage Door. That was an incredible experience. Over the next two weeks, I got to have incredible moments of sharing my passion for this show with these incredible actors. I got to talk the craft a bit with Nick Blaemire I discussions that I wished didn’t have to end. I got to look a Musical Theatre legend in the eyes and tell her of my admiration of her work when I met Eden Espinosa. I had an immediate sense of comfort and kinship with Bryonha Marie Parham, who was funny and genuine and beautiful and kind. Audrey Cardwell surprised me with how young she was. Both she and Bryonha managed to make their characters seem older onstage than what they appear to be offstage. Max Von Essen was so kind, and careful to make sure he had interactions with everyone who wanted one. And Nick Adams posed for a prom picture with me. I never went to my prom, but in my high school dreams, a guy like Nick Adams would have sufficed!
Each time I saw the show, I found new things to love and appreciate about it. My third time seeing it, I sat in the center of the third row with one of the most important people in my life, and it was like experiencing it for the first time. Each time I saw it, I found myself focusing on different elements: watching the characters on the sidelines watching the other characters, tracking the movement of each block of the incredibly innovative set, catching moments of foreshadowing (“passion dies…”).
I thought that my third time was going to be my last time. It seemed like a nice round number to end on. And yet, I entered the lottery on a whim on TodayTix, and won. And when I couldn’t find anyone to go with, I decided to go alone because I wasn’t going to let lack of someone I know to sit next to get in the way of my experiencing this show one more time.
The fourth and final time I saw the show was the best I’d ever seen it. Every actor seemed to be exploring new and unexplored moments. It felt ALIVE. And I got to FEEL IT fully without “worrying” about whether the person next to me was enjoying it or not.
A moment from that show that will live with me forever is right after the tender love song that “Marvin” sings to “Whizzer” while they’re both laying naked in bed, the straight couple next to me, who had to be in their late 70’s or older, looked at each other and the woman said “That was the most beautiful love song I’ve heard in my whole life.” In a world where being gay or Jewish or Muslim or anything “other” can feel like a crime, that statement made my heart smile and have such hope for the world.
I had the opportunity one last time to thank the actors at the stage door for their performances and for being a part of a show that had me captivated and addicted. If I could, I’d go back a dozen more times, and I’ve honestly only ever felt that way about two shows: Rent, back when I first saw it in 1996, and Jagged Little Pill which I saw last year and am traveling to New York for the first time in December to see again.
Falsettos was not a show I was supposed to love. But I did. And I do.
And while I’m on my own journey of a march in Falsettoland, I am so thankful to the cast and crew of the touring production of Falsettos for giving me memories of a show I will forever cherish.