William Finn’s Falsettos — Songs for a Sun…er, Friday

William Finn's Falsettos
By Source, Fair use, drawing by Keith Haring

My “Song for a Sunday” arrives two days early this week, thanks to the reminder I received that William Finn’s Falsettos airs on Live from Lincoln Center tonight—October 27th—at 9pm (check your local PBS listings).

It’s not actually a live performance—the show ended its limited run early this year—but it was recorded during a live performance. Which I suppose is close to the same thing.

I’ve embedded the “Sneak Peak!” they put together but I honestly don’t know what you’ll make of it. I’ve seen this material probably four times in total and if I didn’t know the plot, this mishmash of music wouldn’t do much to enlighten me. And not a note of one of the most beautiful ballads William Finn has ever written, “What More Can I Say?” (Alan Cumming does a gorgeous rendition of this on one of his albums).

William Finn’s Falsettos and the power of revision

Falsettos is actually two musicals, written nearly a decade apart—the final two sections of a trilogy about Marvin, a married man with a wife and child who discovers he’s gay.

The show that now comprises the first act of William Finn’s FalsettosMarch of the Falsettos—was the first show I saw in New York as a newly minted theatre major. A show about a gay man! Written by a gay man! Being staged in a real theatre! With a cast album, even. Okay, so what if the man and his lover had a rather pugilistic relationship. They were gay and onstage; the world seemed full of possibilities.

Nine years later, composer William Finn was back with a sequel, Falsettoland, that updated Marvin’s life in the age of AIDS. Marvin and his lover acquired a couple of lesbian friends (lesbians! onstage!). And while the show featured the aforementioned gorgeous ballad and a funny song about baseball, a show about the age of AIDS premiering in the midst of the age of AIDS…well, you’d do well to bring your Kleenex.

With a little judicious trimming, the two separate shows became one—first show, first act; second show, second act.

This 2016 production surprised me; Christian Borle’s Marvin is a bit of a narcissistic a-hole. Actually, more than a bit. Maybe I’d been blinded by the character’s gayness and just didn’t notice that back in the ’80s. Or maybe my tolerance for narcissistic a-holes has declined as I’ve gotten older, like my tolerance for wearing high heels.

It’s also possible they revised the book to make Marvin more of an antihero, though I can’t find any backup for that. While we’re on the subject of revision—since this is one thing I talk to my writers about a lot—please notice that if William Finn had said “Nope. March of the Falsettos is finished. I will not change a word or a note,” then Falsettos would never have existed.

Be open to new possibilities for your work. Try things out; you can always restore your work to the original form. (This is where art made of words has a distinct advantage over art made of things. Once you’ve sawed your painting in half, it’s hard to change your mind.)

Do watch Falsettos if you get a chance (I’ve set my DVR, since it conflicts with the World Series). And bring your Kleenex.


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Also published on Medium.