“Falsettos” -- that very New York tear-jerker of a musical masterpiece by James Lapine and William Finn -- gets an extraordinarily satisfying and modern-seeming revival from Lincoln Center and Jujamcyn Theaters.
A 1992 Broadway debut, “Falsettos” was an amalgam of two off-Broadway tuners: “March of the Falsettos” (1981) and “Falsettoland” (1990). Think for a moment about our city and what it was like to be gay during that interval for a sense of the disparate tone of the two acts.
The production now at the Walter Kerr Theatre has the good fortune to be directed by Lapine, who with Finn won Tony Awards for both the “Falsettos” score and book. There isn’t a throwaway song among the 35-plus in this grand affair.
The cast -- we first meet the men dressed as figures from the Old Testament in a rousing curtain-raiser -- is, in fact, led by two gentiles: Christian Borle (“Something Rotten”), as fumbling dad Marvin, and Andrew Rannells (“Hamilton,” “Hedwig”) as his boyfriend, the stylish pretty boy Whizzer.
As “Falsettos” gets going, it’s 1979 and Marvin has left wife Trina (Stephanie J. Block, the talented “Edwin Drood” Tony nominee) for Whizzer, but he still wants a tight-knit family and sees no reason why wife, son and lover shouldn’t eat meals together.
Trina, unable to cope with the abandonment, begins to see, then date, Marvin’s therapist … surely a violation of at least two American Psychiatric Association mandates, but I’m looking the other way. Meanwhile, Marvin and Trina’s son, Jason, is preparing for his bar mitzvah, listening to prayers on his “Walkerman,” as mom calls it.
All characters in “Falsettos” are going through a trajectory of finding themselves, even as their family and work lives are unfolding in ways they couldn’t have predicted.
“I hold to the ground as the ground keeps shifting, keeping my balance square,” Trina sings.
Borle is bluff and straightforward. He has an easy intimacy with Rannells, who is doing the best work of his career as the stereotypical gay guy obsessed with clothes and sex, who realizes his own fullness and maturity as a makeshift stepfather.
Block, as Trina, tries to be sophisticated, accommodating Whizzer because he’s nice to her and good to her son. I’ve seen quite a few productions of “Falsettos,” and she is giving my favorite-ever performance of “I’m Breaking Down,” her props a knife, two bananas and a couple of limp carrots -- just use your imagination.
Brandon Uranowitz (“An American in Paris”) brings a playful interpretation to Mendel, the therapist who spars verbally with everyone and is neurotic in a central casting, identifiably Jewish sort of way.
Talented newcomer Anthony Rosenthal -- is there a more New York name than Anthony Rosenthal? -- has the plum role of pre-bar mitzvah Jason, the pre-teen with no road map for figuring out how all these adults fit into his life.
A crucial component of “Falsettos” is how it depicts the friendship between Jason and Whizzer, which develops during a time when there was no pop culture effluvia -- I’m talking to you, “Daddy’s Roommate” -- to help navigate matters. On those lines, Rannells and Rosenthal play off one another magnificently in the beloved number “The Baseball Game.”
The “lesbians from next door,” a doctor and caterer, are played warmly by Tracie Thoms and Betsy Wolfe. Wolfe is exceptionally lovable as the cook too aware that her partner saves lives while she “saves chicken fat.” Both women have an equal commitment to their responsibilities.
David Rockwell’s adventuresome set features a skyline backdrop, but the key element is a foam cube that’s something like a life-sized 3D Tangram. It pulls apart to become furniture or the doorway of an apartment.
A family oriented musical about one kid and a half-dozen adults becoming fully realized humans, “Falsettos” is grounded in ideas that came before gay liberation or AIDS. Is there a theme more universal than the mystery of why some people fall in love? This eloquent take bridges age and cultural boundaries and is as timeless as they come.
“Falsettos,” on sale through Jan. 8, at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St. Tickets: Starting at $42. Call 800-982-2787.
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