William Finn’s Falsettos — 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 Falsettos—March 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 gorgeous love song “What More Can I Say?” 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, like my tolerance for wearing high heels, has declined as I’ve gotten older.
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 objects. Once you’ve sawed your painting in half, it’s hard to change your mind.)
Do watch Falsettos if you ever get a chance. And bring your Kleenex.