It’s no secret that Coeur d’Alene’s Lake City Playhouse has struggled to regain its footing in the wake of its disastrous merger with the former Interplayers of Spokane.
Lake City assumed control of the foundering Interplayers in 2014. For a time, under the name the Modern Theater, both stages hosted vibrant and vital theater, from smaller productions such as “A Bright New Boise” and “Last of the Boys” to well-known classics such as “Chicago” and “The Glass Menagerie.” It all collapsed at the end of 2016 when the Modern Spokane shut its doors in the face of continuing financial woes, and the Modern Coeur d’Alene returned to its community theater roots and its previous name.
This is why it’s great to see Lake City tackle a show such as “Falsettos.” This Tony-winning musical by William Finn and James Lapine is a critical darling and cult favorite. On opening night, an audience member could be heard telling others, “You’re going to love this. Best musical ever.” It’s a charming piece of sung-through theater, full of challenging and entertaining music, deeply felt emotions and adult conversations. It’s wickedly funny, but tinged with sadness.
Directed by Kasey and Jadd Davis, Lake City’s production of “Falsettos” stars Brandon Michael as Marvin. As the show opens in 1979, Marvin, who his Jewish, has left his wife, Trina (Alyssa Hersey), and son, Jason (Aidan Headley), and come out as gay. He’s involved with an attractive younger man, Whizzer (Duncan Clark Menzies), and is in therapy with his psychiatrist, Mendel (Kyle Ross).
Despite the nuclear bomb he’s dropped on Trina and Jason, Marvin still longs for a close family, one that includes Whizzer, much to Trina’s chagrin. Yet he’s still conflicted. When Mendel asks if Marvin loves Whizzer, his response is “kinda, sorta.”
Things get even more complicated when Mendel and Trina begin a relationship, unexpectedly expanding Marvin’s idea of family even further.
In the second act, set two years later, we meet the lesbians next door, a doctor named Charlotte (Callie McKinney Cabe) and a caterer, Cordelia (Amy D’Orazi). Charlotte begins to see “bachelors” come into the hospital suffering from a new illness that has her colleagues puzzled. This new disease looms large as the story moves toward its sad, yet ultimately uplifting, end.
Is Lake’s City’s production of “Falsettos” perfect? No. From casting to opening night, the cast and crew had about five weeks – over the Christmas holidays – to put the show together. While “Falsettos” is not “Les Miserables” in terms of its staging, the music is complex, and some performers on opening night seemed more ready than others.
So is it worth seeing? Oh yes. The leading voices of Michael, Hersey and Menzies are all spot on. As Marvin, Michael brings emotion and a beautiful voice to the stage. His solo in the second act, “What More Can I Say,” was lovely. And in his duets with Menzies, including “Thrill of First Love,” “The Chess Game” and especially the heartbreaking “What Would I Do,” their voices mesh together quite nicely.
As Trina, Hersey nails her big first act number “I’m Breaking Down,” as her character struggles with coming to grips with her new reality. Her second act solo, “Holding to the Ground,” is also well done. “I was sure growing up I would live the life my mother assumed I’d live. Very Jewish. Very middle class. And very straight. Where healthy men stayed healthy men, and marriages were long and great,” she sings, bringing her character’s confusion and evolution to the stage in one song. “I’m trying to keep sane as the rules keep changing. Families aren’t what they were.”
Also terrific is Menzies, most recently seen as Tony in “West Side Story” at Spokane Civic Theatre. He brings the requisite cockiness to Whizzer, as well as an emotional center. Whizzer may be pretty, but he’s no mere pretty boy. And Menzies’ talents are on full display on songs such as “The Games I Play,” where his character admits frustrations with the choices Marvin make. “It hurts not to love him,” he sings. “It hurts when loves fades. It hard when part of him is off playing family charades.”
Finding young performers who can carry a major role in a musical is a challenge, and the Davises did a fine job in tapping Headley as the precocious, neurotic and insomniac son, Jason. He performed well throughout the show, and especially in his solo “Miracle of Judiasm.”
The ensemble numbers also sounded strong. I particularly liked “Days Like This,” “The Baseball Game,” and “A Day in Falsettoland.”
Music director Jenny Twitchell also deserves a shout out. As the lone musician, she’s on stage the entire show, accompanying the actors on keyboard. She never missed a beat, even when called upon to break the fourth wall and hand a prop to an actor.
The bottom line is that “Falsettos” is such a lovely show of family, one that is rarely performed in these parts, that when the opportunity to see it presents itself, theater fans should take advantage of it. Because whatever imperfections were on stage opening night at Lake City Playhouse, they are easily overshadowed by the overall quality of the show, the heartfelt emotions it expresses and the passion of the performers.
Better still, with this challenging show on the bill, the crowd favorite “Steel Magnolias” up next and the cult musical “Heathers” on tap for the spring, it hopefully marks a continued upward trajectory for community theater in Coeur d’Alene.