The Year of The Child – Welcome to Falsettoland

We are one week away from starting rehearsals for Falsettos!

One of our amazing board members saved programmes from the original Toronto run of March of the Falsettos (Stage Direction Theatrical Productions, 1983), Falsettos (Followspot Theatre, 1995) and the original Broadway run of Falsettos 1992). Flipping through these programmes offers such a rich history! [Stay tuned for Finn Fridays this week, in which you’ll be able to have a look at these programs yourself!] 

Interesting tidbits: 

  • March of the Falsettos (which was presented at what is now the Berkeley Street Theatre) was the first time the “Fairlight CMI and Synthesizer” was used in a theatrical application. The instrument was able to play up to 8 instruments at one time. How wonderfully innovative the synthesizer must have been then, and now – 30 years later – we are cutting the synthesizer from our orchestration to ensure the richness of real instruments.
  • The original Toronto production of March of the Falsettos featured Canadian greats such as Brian McKay (Whizzer), Gerry Salsberg (Mendel) and Liliane Stilwell (Trina) and was directed by Heinar Piller and musical directed by David Warrick. The first Toronto production of Falsettos featured two of our Associate Artists (Barbara Barsky at Trina and Sharron Matthews as Cordelia) along with the amazing Jay Turvey (Parade) as Mendel, Marek Norman as Marvin and Jayne Lewis as Charlotte.
  • Just looking through a Broadway Playbill from 1992 is a hoot with hilarious cigarette ads and terrific 80s hair.

One thing that struck me was how all three of these productions described their show without one reference to the fact that the catalyst in the show is Marvin coming out as a gay man. No use of the word ‘gay’ is anywhere to be found.

In 1983, Stage Direction Theatrical Productions’ programme describes the show as having “a realistic and easily identifiable message about love, family and communication.”

In 1995, Followspot Theatre notes “Falsettos is a story about choosing a family. It is a story about life, love, sex, joy and sorrow, peace and turmoil.”

On Broadway, the Playbill listings has the show billed most bizarrely as “Everybody’s musical” (what does that mean?)

The Acting Up Stage descriptor begins with: “Set against the backdrop of the sexual-revolution and the emergence of AIDS, Falsettos tells the story of Marvin, a married father who—in 1979—leaves his wife and son for another man.”

Don’t get me wrong, Falsettos is truly a musical with universal appeal. But the events of the play are critically linked to the fact that Marvin tries to integrate his male lover into his wife and son’s life in 1979. This is as important as noting that Caroline, or Change was about a Black maid in 1963 and not just ‘a’ maid.

I don’t mean to be critical of marketing teams from 20-30 years ago at all. And I am just looking at a small cross-section of the material that was produced for these productions. But (in a good way), I think this signifies one of the most interesting parts of looking back at a musical that was extremely boundary pushing in its time. While it still has great relevance today, we can now watch this show through a different lens where words like “gay” or “same-sex families” can make it onto a poster without (I hope!) alienating straight audiences. The topic of this musical is no longer avant-garde, but the message and discussions that emerge from it are just as relevant today as when it premiered. How will that affect the lens through which we view this show today? Come see it in a few weeks to find out!

Posted in Falsettos, Local News, The Year of the Child