It’s like Kennedy’s assassination, the death of Elvis and 9/11. Yes, I think that most of us old enough to have witnessed the first days of HIV/AIDS remember the moment we learned of the disease that would rip through our community like wildfire. For me, it was a People magazine headline that read “Mysterious Cancer That’s Killing Gay Men.” I was 14 years old and it terrified me.
People in the theatre world were among the first respondents to the crisis. While Reagan refused to even speak the word AIDS, playwrights like William Finn were crafting art that would help us grieve, hope and even laugh. His musical Falsettoland became one of the first and finest plays to unravel the emotional and physical fallout for the disease’s first victims and their loved ones.
Falsettoland is the third play in a trilogy that follows the lives of Martin, his lover Whizzer, his ex-wife Trina and their son Jason. Like its predecessors In Trousers and March of the Falsettos, it opened off-Broadway, continuing on to huge success on Broadway in 1992 when it was combined with the second play in a piece simply entitled Falsettos.
“I do think there was a bit of danger when they presented them on Broadway,” says Robert McQueen, who is directing Acting Up Stage’s upcoming production of Falsettos. “It was the first time a commercial musical really seriously examined contemporary gay life and HIV.”
Eric Morin portrays the character of Whizzer in the play, a beautiful young man who becomes the catalyst for Marvin’s (Stephen Patterson) coming out to his wife (Glynnis Ranney) and 11-year-old son Jacob (Michael Levinson). “I love how authentic the music and the dialogues are,” Morin says. “Whizzer is such a real character, someone who is used to getting things out of men by displaying his body and his sex appeal. He knows how to play at being submissive, while still being very bright and very hard-headed.”
The first act of Falsettos focuses on Marvin’s life as he transitions from family man to gay partner and father. His relationship with his son has suffered over his coming out, while the romantic pairing with Whizzer isn’t turning out to be quite the happily-ever-after he’d hoped for. Act Two complicates matters further, as Whizzer rejoins the family, only to succumb to a hitherto unknown illness that the audience will instantly recognize as HIV/AIDS.
Finn’s flashes of humour serve to illuminate an otherwise sombre theme. Both plays have many laugh-out-loud moments (LOL to all you kiddies), and the music boasts some of the most singable ditties about queers, Jews and AIDS you’ll ever hear.
“When you’re dealing with a musical, the most important thing is that people need to understand and connect to the lyrics,” says music director Reza Jacobs. “What’s incredible about Finn’s piece is that he put homosexuality centre stage at a time when nobody was doing anything like that.”
A former student of Finn’s at NYU, Jacobs is excited to direct the moving and melodic music segments but says that it was Finn’s humour that first pulled him into the incredible score. “The first song I ever heard was in the opening number, called ‘Four Jews in a Room Bitching.’ From that moment, I knew I would love the piece.”
Thurs, April 25–Sun, May 12
Daniels Spectrum (formerly known as the Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre)