Falsettos opened this month at the Ahmanson to a packed theater. Sitting in the mezzanine on opening night I observed my fellow audience members as they arrived. It’s what one does, the watching. It’s protocol. The vast majority of the incoming audience was dressed up — an uncommon sight for theatre audiences in Los Angeles where “add a fedora and you’re set” is a common adage.
Costumes aside, when the lights went down I realized that I was sitting in the best audience I’d ever been a part of. This audience laughed loudly, applauded, yes, but also screamed and cheered after every single song (and Falsettos is entirely sung-through) and they cried openly as things began to take a darker turn. They sobbed. They clutched each other’s shoulders, something I am known for doing. Were they all Lillian Mottern aficionados? Unfortunately, no. That is not where this is going.
If you took the audience’s reaction as an indicator, LA’s opening night of Falsettos was an incredible success. The excitement surrounding this little musical which closed on Broadway over two years ago, seemed just as strong two weeks ago as it was when the show opened in September of 2016. The excitement was beautiful but also unexpected; Los Angeles theatre often falls into a steady and predictable rhythm and its audiences consist of a similar “seen-it-all, done-it-all” crowd. This audience, though, was not jaded and drunk, instead, they were shockingly present and enthusiastic — they seemed different right away.
They were different. Disrupting the norm of Los Angele theater audiences being made of up older, wealthy people who can afford the sky-high ticket prices attached to the theatre of today, the LA premiere of Falsettos opened to an audience of teenagers.
God, that build-up was beautiful.
I have to admit that I was surprised that so many young people were there. Weren’t just there but had turned up in droves. I knew I’d be there. I’m always there, dahling. I’m always there in a giant theatre coat holding a pencil so that it vaguely resembles a cigarette and starting the standing part of the standing ovation. Considering my lonely past of theatre-going, it was a lovely surprise to see the untouched faces of Generation Z looking up from their cell phones to run into each other’s arms and shout with drama about the glory of the Theatre.
Theatre people are theatre people, no matter how old, no matter how young. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that.
There’s a reason for this surge of teenagers in the theaters of Los Angeles. The Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, which is the group responsible for all shows done at the Ahmanson, Mark Taper, and Kirk Douglas recently came up with an initiative to Get The Youth Into The Theater. It’s a brilliant idea and you’ll appreciate it if you love theatre, because if you are young or were once young, you surely understand the plight of the teenaged theater enthusiast. We are highly zealous but poorly funded. So; every month or so The Centre Theater Group offers free tickets to their upcoming shows (one has to pay a $5 handling fee) to theatergoers 25 years old and younger. Sometimes they’ll offer several nights with the free tickets and you can take your pick but in the case of Falsettos, the only night offered was April 18th — opening night. And the theatre kids turned certainly up. The will call line was awash in little pairs of brightly dressed teenagers pushing their student ID’s under the ticket window and explaining loudly that they were there for the free tickets. Do I sound old if I say it was delightful? I’m ageless, as you all know, but I’m also only 18.
Gees, now you know my real age. I should have revealed it with more drama. Goddamn it. Forget it. Forget it. Please forget it.
Falsettos is a great musical. Really great. It’s a truly theatrical show. By which I mean, it isn’t a television program with songs forced onstage. Am I glancing slyly at Dear Evan Hansen? I apologize. I’m not a bitter theatre person yet, but I have my opinions.* As a writer, I really appreciated the way that Falsettos is structured. It is entirely sung-through and sometimes the many songs are announced by the characters; “Marvin at the psychiatrist a three-part opera”, for example. That is a delightful line.
Director James Lapine and choreographer Spencer Liff who most recently choreographed “Head Over Heels”, which I wrote a good article on, use movement and strong blocking well; the sung-through show needs it. The cast was great; I especially enjoyed Nick Blaemire as Mendel. His gravely singing voice was a humorous and comfortable contrast to the clear tenors of Marvin and Whizzer, played respectively with self-awareness and heart-breaking humor by Max von Essen and Nick Adams.
Now a bit of history on the show ‘cause we need it for our health. Falsettos was originally written as two separate pieces, Falsettoland, and March of the Falsettos. It premiered in the first incarnation of its two-act version in 1992. The version currently playing is the 2016 revival. Both the 1992 and 2016 versions were directed by book co-writer James Lapine. William Finn co-wrote the book with Lapine, composed the score, and wrote the genius lyrics. Talk about an icon, people.
In spite of its age, Falsettos feels relevant. It really does. It feels like a show for today’s audiences; by which I mean today’s teenaged audiences; by which of course I mean today’s gay teenaged audiences.
Act Two opens with the haunting riff “Homosexuals / Women with children / Short insomniacs / And a teeny tiny band” which is repeated tragically at the end of the show as all my true theatre enthusiasts will no doubt already know.
The ending aside; the opening of Act Two is light-hearted and one of the most memorable moments of the show. Lights up on Act Two, Mendel sings “homosexuals”, pauses, switches on two flashlights, and shines them onto the audience. Onto the gay teenaged audience. Which screams and shouts and claps and laughs and cries. It is an absolute adrenaline rush and everyone is shrieking. To use a word I use altogether too often, it is absolutely delightful. Beyond delightful, it is important. Pourquoi, you ask? Why is it important? For my generation to not only see themselves in William Finn’s and James Lapine’s beautifully drawn characters — and I know that we do see ourselves in those bright and tortured creatures — but to actually be counted among these characters, to be included, to be celebrated, is deeply meaningful. It’s what theatre is about. It really is.
It is interesting to me that the Ahmanson chose opening night to give the teenagers of Los Angeles free tickets to Falsettos. It made me chuckle at first, thinking of the subtle plotting that was involved, but I respect them for it. God knows, we, young and full of zeal, are the best audience a show could ask for. Knowing this, I will say this to those productions that so many of my peers cannot afford to go to, those shows that request, like, half our college money to attend, whether they be in New York, London, or here in Los Angeles: please let us into your shows. We will love them. Or maybe we will abhor them. We will have strong opinions, that you can bet on. We will laugh and cry. We will actually sob, darling. We will be the best audience you have ever had.
*And I’m on my way to true bitterness, darlings, I’ll let you know when I’ve arrived. Not that you’d ever notice, of course, no one does.