Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 7 – Mar 16, 2014
Book by William Finn, James Lapine
Music and lyrics: William Finn
Director: Stephen Colyer
Co-musical directors: Nigel Ubrihien, Chris King
Actors: Stephen Anderson, Margi de Ferranti, Ben Hall, Tamlyn Henderson, Elise McCann, Katrina Retallick, Isaac Shaw
Image by Helen White
Falsettos is a musical that has everything. More than that, Darlinghurst Theatre’s latest production achieves excellence on many different levels, and provides a theatrical experience that exceeds many shows in Sydney of much grander scales (with far heftier price tags). This is a modest and intimate interpretation of an off-Broadway musical that first took form in 1981, but it surprises with the emotional punch it delivers, and the incredibly impressive standard of choreography, direction and performance.
When an actor is allowed to showcase the clichéd triple-threat in demanding roles, results can be breathtaking, and in the case of lead man Tamlyn Henderson, it is definitely so. Henderson’s performance is skilful and complex. He draws laughter and tears, all the while being Mr Showbiz, all booming singing voice and nifty footwork, but simultaneously completely believable and tender in his characterisation. Henderson is in a word, fantastic.
Katrina Retallick brings an extraordinary warmth to her Trina, and performs the single most memorable number of the night, based entirely on a step aerobics routine. Young actor Isaac Shaw steals hearts in the role of the irresistibly cute Jason, displaying talent and ability that matches up confidently to his adult counterparts.
In spite of his ugly wig and spectacles, Stephen Anderson’s natural charisma is clearly evident. His comic ability is well utilised in the show, and his singing voice is delightfully versatile and reliably resonant. Ben Hall provides the story’s eye candy, and certainly lives up to that challenge. Thankfully, Hall imbues his role with a healthy sense of humour, and is a strong enough singer to hold his own (but does suffer a little from the lack of microphones). It must be noted that Nigel Ubrihien’s solo piano accompaniment is outstanding, and does what a full orchestra sometimes fails to do. The feel and accuracy he contributes to the sonic landscape of the production is absolutely crucial and perfectly executed.
Visual design elements are effective but understated. Ingenuity is shown in the use of seven coffin-like structures that are incorporated elegantly into stage design and choreography, but could probably benefit from a little sprucing up. Our eyes focus on characters, while set, props, costumes and lighting take a back seat in this musical.
Director Stephen Colyer’s extensive background in dance shines through brilliantly. His use of movement and the physical form is intricate, deeply considered, and beautiful. The lines between choreography and direction are entirely blurred. Characters never dance for the sake of dancing alone. Every move is for character development and storytelling. Colyer obviously knows all there is to know about entertainment and show pacing, but he is also careful to handle the material with sensitivity and spirituality, which in turn produces a good level of depth that accompanies the sentimentalities that pervade the writing. The show he has created is artistically inventive and technically accomplished. It is also highly entertaining, thought provoking and full of humanity. This is the musical format thoroughly evolved.