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Review: Falsettos at the Riverside Theatre

Review By Bradley Ward

When reviewing art of any form, it can become easy to get lost in the details. We often find ourselves criticising particular brush strokes, camera angles, and vocal notes rather than taking in the entire work as a whole. A theatrical production is worth more than the sum of its parts, and it is nice to get an occasional reminder of that. If I had to write a review of this show based of just the first half, I would tell you that it is a very good show that has the potential of being great. Such is the ignorance we can sometimes fall into when criticising by parts, because Falsettos at Riverside Theatre, when taken as a whole, is undoubtedly great.

The issues that I had with the first act of the show revolve around the delivery of the narrative. Falsettos follows Marvin (Simon Ward), as he attempts to navigate his increasingly passive-aggressive relationship with his boyfriend, Whizzer (Aleksander Justin), while also maintaining a close relationship with his ex-wife, Trina (Linda Hale), and son, Jason (Oscar Langmar). This already difficult balancing act is complicated further when Trina accepts a marriage proposal from Marvin’s psychiatrist, Mendel (Levi Burrows). By the end of the first act, a lot of Marvin’s relationships are strained or falling apart, leaving him desperately reaching out to his son for just one moment of connection. It’s a touching story of longing, loneliness and desire for connection, which at first seems to have trouble balancing its multiple plot threads. While some character dynamics are given great attention, other are glossed over rather quickly, often falling into the trap of telling the audience rather than showing them. Several moments are delivered with hastily explained exposition – if they are explained at all – which ultimately proves to be quite jarring.

And then you see the second act, and the full tapestry comes into view. I won’t go into a great deal of detail about the second act for the sake of those who have not seen Falsettos, except to say that it mostly revolves around events leading up to Jason’s bar mitzvah, and introduces two new characters: Charlotte (Chloe Angel) and Cordelia (Ashleigh Campbell), a doctor and a caterer who are a couple and live next door to Marvin. I will also say that the second half of the show features some unexpected and challenging emotional beats which draw directly from those jarring moments in the first act. Each beat takes one relationship or character dynamic that was only briefly explored in the first act and brings a new level of depth and complexity to it, leading to some legitimately heartbreaking moments towards the end. It is a masterful piece of storytelling, and I applaud the director for deftly navigating such difficult terrain.

Of course, this show isn’t all about the story and director. There is a lot to love across the board for this show. The band was tight and energetic, the lighting subtle yet effective, and the set provided a distinct sense of time and place while being incredibly fluid. The greatest praise goes to the cast though, who imbue every moment on stage with humour and heart and have a natural collective charisma that is hard to find in a cast. Chloe Angel and Ashleigh Campbell make up for their short time on stage with confidence and talent, easily establishing themselves as audience favourites within minutes of their entrance; Simon Ward anchors the show wonderfully as Marvin, alternating rapidly between frustration, sarcasm and sincerity to craft a protagonist that is both deeply flawed yet sympathetic; Aleksander Justin juggles the duality of his role with aplomb, equally convincing as both the charming and confident version of Whizzer and the vulnerable heart of the show his character eventually becomes; Oscar Langmar wows as the young Jason, easily holding the spotlight alongside the older performers around him; Linda Hale dominates the entire first half of the show and keeps the audience enraptured through multiple complex solo numbers; and Levi Burrows blends layers of subtle realism into his dorky, endearing psychiatrist, transforming a character who could have been grating and over-the-top into one of the most three dimensional characters I’ve seen on stage in a long time.

The only negative I have for this show is that it has irreversibly changed my relationship with Spotify. After eighteen months of ignoring Spotify’s suggestion that I listen to the soundtrack of Falsettos, I’ve found myself listening to it on an almost daily basis. Spotify will forever think that I take its music suggestions seriously and I place the blame for this mistake entirely on the shoulders of the immensely talented cast and crew of Falsettos at Riverside Theatre.

Images Supplied

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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