This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

“BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE”: THE REVLON CONCERT FOR THE RAINFOREST FUND

Another superstar lineup is set for the annual Rainforest Fund benefit at Carnegie Hall

Another superstar lineup is set for the biannual Rainforest Fund benefit at Carnegie Hall

Who: Chris Botti, Vittorio Grigolo, Darlene Love, Idina Menzel, Ronnie Spector, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, James Taylor, more
What: Biannual benefit for the Rainforest Fund
Where: Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage, Carnegie Hall,
When: Wednesday, December 14, $150 - $600, 7:00
Why: Founded in 1989 by Trudie Styler and Sting, the Rainforest Fund “supports programs that cover a range of issues from protection of civil and political rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, to the promotion and defense of their social, economic and cultural rights, including the protection of rights to their land and against the destructiveness of resource exploitation.” Every other year the man also known as Gordon Sumner leads a rousing benefit at Carnegie Hall to raise money and awareness for the organization, which must be cheering the recent news about the potential move of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The stellar lineup for the December 14 show, “Baby It’s Cold Outside”: The Revlon Concert for the Rainforest Fund, features jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo, legendary vocalists Darlene Love and Ronnie Spector, Broadway superstar Idina Menzel, bestselling author Bruce Springsteen, singer-songwriter James Taylor, and Sting, in addition to surprise guests. Previous shows, which used to be known as Rock for the Rainforest, have included performances by Paul Simon, Whitney Houston, Stephen Stills, Dionne Warwick, Billy Joel, Renée Fleming, Elton John, Natalie Cole, George Michael, Gladys Knight, Tom Jones, Macy Gray, Ravi Shankar, Sheryl Crow, and Stevie Wonder, mixing multiple genres and resulting in fab finales with everyone onstage joining in on classic tunes.

THE WOLVES

(photo by Daniel J. Vasquez)

Girls soccer team prepares for next game in Sarah DeLappe’s winning debut, THE WOLVES (photo by Daniel J. Vasquez)

The Playwrights Realm
The Duke on 42nd St.
Wednesday - Monday through December 24, $65-$85
www.playwrightsrealm.org

Sarah DeLappe’s sharply incisive debut play about a girls soccer team, The Wolves, is back for an encore engagement at the Duke on 42nd St., making a playoff run after a superb regular season in September. The Playwrights Realm production is set in the present in an unnamed middle America town, where the team is making a championship run of its own. The action takes place on Laura Jellinek’s rectangular AstroTurf set, with the audience seated bleacher-style on the two longer sides of the central green field. Over the course of ninety minutes and a handful of Saturday game warm-ups, the nine girls discuss menstruation, their perpetually hung-over coach, social media, religion, exercise, parents, abortion, political correctness, and making a difference in the world while stretching, jogging in formation, and kicking the ball around in predetermined practice routines (including the awesome spider). The sixteen- and seventeen-year-old students are more than a bit fascinated with aging and death; the play opens with a debate about whether ninety-year-old former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea should be imprisoned or executed for horrific crimes he committed in the 1970s. When a few of the girls admit they don’t know anything about the Khmer Rouge, one says, “We don’t do genocide till senior year.” When they argue about the success of various types of feminine hygiene products, the same girl declares, “Score on me with my own baby blood? I think not!” The Wolves regularly passes the Bechdel test, as very few of the discussions have anything to do with boys. In addition, nearly everyone involved with the play is female; the only male listed in the program is one of the sound designers.

(photo by Daniel J. Vasquez)

Sarah DeLappe’s award-winning play is back for an encore run at the Duke on 42nd St. (photo by Daniel J. Vasquez)

The Realm’s Page One Playwright, DeLappe, and director Lila Neugebauer (Signature Plays: The Sandbox, The Wayside Motor Inn) — both of whom played soccer and made playing the sport with the actors part of the audition process — serve up rapid-fire dialogue like a ball being passed around during a game, with multiple conversations going on at the same time, the audience swerving their heads back and forth to keep up with the fast pace and flow. After a victory, many an athlete has attributed success to that mundane sports cliché, Total Team Effort, but that is exactly what makes The Wolves such a winner; the nine young actors are individually excellent and even better as a unit, although they are later joined by a soccer mom (Kate Arrington) in a heartfelt but unnecessary coda. DeLappe’s clever writing prevents the girls from turning into stereotypes; in fact, for most of the play they are referred to by their numbers, not their names. (We don’t even learn everyone’s given appellation.) They all wear Ásta Bennie Hostetter’s blue uniform costumes except for the goalie, #00 (Lizzy Jutila), who dresses in yellow and purposely mismatched sneakers; she barely speaks but pays close attention to what the rest of the girls are saying. The team is led by #25 (Lauren Patten), the captain, who has learned various motivation techniques from her father. The rest of the cast, each of whom deserves kudos, features Sarah Mezzanotte as the skinny #2; Brenna Coates as the bold and brash striker, #7; Midori Francis as the childlike and innocent #8; Susannah Perkins as the elitist and morbid #11; Jenna Dioguardi as the wacky, filter-less #13; Samia Finnerty as the serious #14, who is best friends with #7; and Tedra Millan as the mysterious #46, an odd new girl who, according to #13, lives with her mother in a “yogurt.” (It’s actually a yurt.) All of their interactions feel honest and genuine, fully immersing the audience in their very believable private and public dramas. The play, which shared the inaugural Relentless Award (with Clare Barron’s Dance Nation), presented by the American Playwriting Foundation in honor of Philip Seymour Hoffman, makes us eager to see more from DeLappe. A wonderful and unique theatrical experience, The Wolves continues at the Duke through December 24, but it deserves a whole lot more extra time before that final whistle blows.

HANASAKA JIISAN (THE OLD MAN WHO MADE FLOWERS BLOOM)

(photo © Naoya Ikegami)

Ryohei Kondo’s playful HANASAKA JIISAN makes its North American debut this weekend at Japan Society (photo © Naoya Ikegami)

Japan Society
333 East 47th St. at First Ave.
Saturday, December 10, 7:30, and Sunday, December 11, 2:30, $28
212-715-1258
www.japansociety.org

Japan Society is hosting the North American premiere this weekend of a rather unique retelling of the favorite mukashi banashi folktale Hanasaka Jiisan (The Old Man Who Made Flowers Bloom), a wild and wacky version by Ryohei Kondo and his all-male Condors dance company. In the story, a childless couple’s dog finds treasure in their backyard, but things go awry when a greedy neighbor then borrows the pooch so it can dig up treasure on his land as well. Currently celebrating its twentieth anniversary, the twelve-member Condors troupe has previously performed such shows as Nezumi no Sumo (Rats’ Sumo), Apollo, Conquest of the Galaxy: Mars, and 2012 Angry Men, an adaptation of 12 Angry Men. The Tokyo-born, South America-raised Kondo, who brought Goats Block the Road, Part III: Goat Stampede to Japan Society in January 2011, has a talent for creating works that combine silliness and unpredictability with a strong social conscience, sharing Japanese culture while avoiding preaching. (He has also choreographed Takashi Miike’s crazy The Happiness of the Katakuris and Yatterman.) Performed by Michihiko Kamakura, Yoshihiro Fujita, Kojiro Yamamoto, and Kondo, Hanasaka Jiisan features playful props and costumes (by Hiroko Takamatsu) on Hanako Murayama’s ever-changing set. It will be preceded by Tokyo-born, Brooklyn-based Maiko Kikuchi’s Pink Bunny, a parade consisting of puppets and unusual objects marching across the stage in short vignettes. In November 2015, the Pratt graduate’s No Need for a Night Light on a Light Night Like Tonight had its world premiere at La MaMa; Pink Bunny premiered in 2014 as part of St. Ann’s Labapalooza! Answering the question “What do you want to be?,” the piece will be performed by Maiko Kikuchi, Shun Kikuchi, Monica Lerch, David Commander, and Zac Pless.

MAGGIE CHEUNG: CENTER STAGE

Maggie Cheung retrospective Center Stage

The magnificent Maggie Cheung takes center stage in retrospective at Metrograph

Center Stage (Stanley Kwan, 1991)
Metrograph
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Thursday, December 8, 1:30, 4:15, 7:00
Tuesday, December 20, 7:00
Series runs December 8-31
212-660-0312
metrograph.com

“Isn’t she a replica of myself?” Maggie Cheung says of Chinese actress Ruan Ling-yu in 1991’s Center Stage, in which Cheung plays Ruan as well as herself. “Maggie, may I ask if you wish to be remembered half a century later?” a man asks, to which Cheung responds, “That’s not so important to me. If future people do remember me, it won’t be the same as Ruan Ling-yu, as she halted her career at the age of twenty-five, when she was at her most glorious. Now she is a legend.” The Hong Kong–born Cheung is now a legend herself, having made more than ninety films since her career began in 1984, when she was nineteen; current and future people are sure to remember the glamorous superstar who continues to help spread Chinese cinema around the world. Cheung, a former model and beauty queen, is being celebrated in the Metrograph series “Maggie Cheung: Center Stage,” running December 8 to 31 and consisting of twenty of her best films, all shown in 35mm, made with such directors as Wong Kar-wai, Olivier Assayas, Jackie Chan, Johnnie To, Tsui Hark, and Stanley Tong. In Center Stage, which kicks off the series, Cheung is radiant as both herself and Ruan as director Stanley Kwan goes back and forth between the present, as Cheung is making the film, and the past, as she portrays Ruan rising from an extra to a star in the late 1920s and early 1930s, at the same time Japan is mounting attacks against China. Cheung, who was named Best Actress at prestigious film festivals in Berlin, Chicago, Taiwan, and Hong Kong for the role, is joined by a stellar cast, including Chen Yen-yen, Lily Li, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Carina Lau, and Chin Han; the real Ruan is seen in archival footage. Made twenty-five years ago, Center Stage, also known simply as Actress, is an excellent start to this wide-ranging series, which features — in addition to the below works — such other films as the Police Story trilogy, The Iceman Cometh, Paper Marriage with Sammo Hung, and In the Mood for Love, one of the most lush and gorgeous romances ever made.

Wong Kar-wai prefers closeups of Maggie Cheung in DAYS OF BEING WILD

Wong Kar-wai favors close-ups of Maggie Cheung in DAYS OF BEING WILD

DAYS OF BEING WILD (A FEI JING JUEN) (Wong Kar-wai, 1990)
Saturday, December 10, 7:45, 10:00
metrograph.com

Wong Kar-wai’s second film, Days of Being Wild — following the surprising success of his debut feature, As Tears Go By — was a popular failure, as Hong Kong audiences were not yet ready for his introspective, character-driven, nonlinear style. (However, it did win five Hong Kong Film Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor.) Days is Wong’s first film with master cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who shot all of Wong’s work through 2004, including Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, and In the Mood for Love. The late Leslie Cheung, who jumped out a hotel window in 2003, stars as Yuddy, a disaffected, beautiful youth who lures in women and then, after they fall in love with him, verbally mistreats them and cheats on them. Among his conquests are the gorgeous Su-Lizhen (Maggie Cheung), often shot in magnificent close-up, and the trampy Mimi (Carina Lau), who is jealous of Su, who takes comfort in telling her tale of woe to local police officer Tide (Andy Lau). Meanwhile, Yuddy, who was raised by a former prostitute, is obsessed with finding his birth mother. Set in 1960, the film’s leitmotif involves time and memory, with clocks ticking loudly and lots of long, lingering looks. The story goes a bit haywire in the latter sections, although the ending is a gem. (Look for Tony Leung there.)

Maggie Cheung is electrifying in ex-hubby Olivier Assayas’s CLEAN

Maggie Cheung is electrifying in ex-hubby Olivier Assayas’s CLEAN

CLEAN (Olivier Assayas, 2004)
Friday, December 16, 4:30, 9:30
metrograph.com

With their divorce pending, writer-director Olivier Assayas and Hong Kong superstar Maggie Cheung wish each other a fond farewell in the moving drama Clean. Named Best Actress at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival for her extraordinary performance, Cheung stars as Emily Wang, a junkie trying to resuscitate the fading music career of her heroin-addicted lover, Lee (British musician James Johnston). Their life together is so screwed up that they rarely see their son, Jay (James Dennis), who lives in Vancouver with Lee’s parents (Nick Nolte and Martha Henry). On the road, Emily scores some drugs, fights with Lee, goes out for a ride, then returns to find him dead from an overdose and the cops waiting to arrest her. After six months in prison, she gets out to find that her life has changed more than she could ever have imagined. Cheung is effervescent every step of the way, lighting up the screen despite playing a very hard-to-like character; her tender scenes with the soft-spoken, grizzled Nolte are particularly gentle and touching. Unfortunately the subplot set in the music world is clichéd, annoying, and mostly unnecessary, everything that the rest of the film is not. The stunt casting is particularly irritating: Tricky, the band Metric, and Mazzy Star’s David Roback all play themselves. The otherwise fine cast also includes Béatrice Dalle, Jeanne Balibar, Don McKellar, and Laetitia Spigarelli, with a soundtrack dominated by ethereal songs by Brian Eno.

Maggie Cheung is wasted in Olivier Assayas’s Truffaut tribute, IRMA VEP

Maggie Cheung is wasted in Olivier Assayas’s Truffaut tribute, IRMA VEP

IRMA VEP (Olivier Assayas, 1996)
Friday, December 16, 2:15, 7:00
metrograph.com

Olivier Assayas pays homage to François Truffaut’s Day for Night in this piece of pseudoartistic fluff about a film crew’s attempts at remaking Louis Feuillade’s 1915 classic Les Vampires. The great Maggie Cheung, who later married and divorced Assayas, is wasted as the star of the remake, and Truffaut regular Jean-Pierre Léaud, playing the director, is frustratingly unintelligible when he speaks in English, which unfortunately is a lot in this high-falutin’ mess.

ASHES OF TIME REDUX is another strikingly beautiful work from director Wong Kar-wai and cinematographer Chistopher Doyle

ASHES OF TIME REDUX is another strikingly beautiful work from director Wong Kar-wai, cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and actress Maggie Cheung

ASHES OF TIME REDUX (Wong Kar-wai, 2008)
Saturday, December 17, 7:00
Monday, December 19, 5:00, 9:15
metrograph.com

Back in 1993, writer-director Wong Kar-wai’s Ashes of Time was released, a thinking man’s martial arts epic inspired by Jin Yong’s The Eagle-Shooting Heroes novels. With numerous versions in circulation and the original negatives in disrepair, Wong (Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love) decided to painstakingly reedit and restore the film fifteen years later, renaming it Ashes of Time Redux. The plot – which is still as confusing as ever — revolves around Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung), a loner who lives in the desert, where people come to him when they need someone taken care of. Every year he is visited by Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung Ka-fai), who keeps him informed of the world outside jianghu — especially about his lost love (Maggie Cheung). Meanwhile, Murong Yang (Brigitte Lin) has demanded that Ouyang kill Huang for having jilted his sister, Murong Yin (also played by Lin), who in turn hires Ouyang to kill Yang. There’s also a blind swordsman (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), a peasant girl with a basket of eggs (Charlie Young), a poor, rogue swordsman (Jacky Cheung), and a bottle of magic wine that can erase memories. Or something like that. But what’s most impressive about Ashes of Time Redux is Christopher Doyle’s thrilling, swirling cinematography, which sweeps the audience into the film, and Wu Tong’s rearranged score, based on the original music by Frankie Chan and Roel A. Garcia and featuring soaring cello solos by Yo-Yo Ma.

NATASHA, PIERRE, AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812

(photo by Chad Batka)

Josh Groban makes his Broadway debut as a cuckolded Russian aristocrat in NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 (photo by Chad Batka)

Imperial Theatre
249 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through September 3, $59-$189
greatcometbroadway.com

Hamilton, watch out; there’s a new historical musical in town, dueling it out for the designation of best show on Broadway. In his epic 1869 novel War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy wrote of his protagonist, Count Pierre Bezukhov, “At the entrance to the Arbat Square an immense expanse of dark starry sky presented itself to his eyes. Almost in the center of it, above the Prechistenka Boulevard, surrounded and sprinkled on all sides by stars but distinguished from them all by its nearness to the earth, its white light, and its long uplifted tail, shone the enormous and brilliant comet of 1812 — the comet which was said to portend all kinds of woes and the end of the world.” And there are all kinds of woes indeed in Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, Dave Malloy’s smashing electro-pop opera adapted from a 70-page section of Tolstoy’s classic tale, which has been magnificently transported to Broadway’s reconfigured Imperial Theatre. The little show that could began life in 2012 at 87-seat Ars Nova, where it ran for 39 performances. The next year it moved to the 199-seat tented Kazino cabaret in the Meatpacking District, and now it’s on Broadway, appropriately enough at the 1,200-seat Imperial, which set designer Mimi Lien (John, An Octoroon) has turned into an immersive wonderland, with ramps snaking from the stage throughout the theater and the audience seated in conventional chairs in the balcony and tavern-like chairs on the stage as well as in slightly sunken pits. The large cast of more than 40 actors and musicians emerge from every nook and cranny, every corner, even occasionally taking a seat right next to you and clinking glasses for a toast. You will be served a potato pierogi early on, and later a percussive egg to shake during some merriment. You might even get a page of War and Peace dropped in your lap. During intermission, you can roam anywhere, getting up close and personal with hundreds of paintings (many of Napoleon) that line the walls.

(photo by Chad Batka)

Countess Hélène Bezukhova (Amber Gray) has some dastardly plans for Countess Natalya Ilyinichna Rostova in immersive Broadway musical (photo by Chad Batka)

Set during the Napoleonic Wars, Natasha is a delightfully soapy story of love and betrayal in 1812 Moscow. The fabulous prologue introduces the major characters: brave Prince Andrey Bolkonsky (Nicholas Belton), who is away at war; “bewildered and awkward” Pierre Bezukhov (Josh Groban), a drunken cuckold who has given up on life; “young” Countess Natalya Ilyinichna Rostova, Andrey’s beautiful fiancée, called Natasha (Denée Benton); “hot” Anatole Kuragin (Lucas Steele), an immoral ladies’ man; “slut” Countess Hélène Bezukhova (Amber Gray), Anatole’s devious sister, who is married to Pierre; “good” Sofia Alexandrovna Rostova, Natasha’s trusted cousin, who goes by Sonya (Brittain Ashford); “crazy” Old Prince Bolkonsky (Belton), Andrey’s doddering father; “plain” Princess Mary Bolkonskaya (Gelsey Bell), Andrey’s sister; “old school” Marya Dmitryevna Akhrosimova (Grace McLean), Natasha’s godmother; “fierce” Fedya Dolokhov (Nick Choksi), a good friend of Anatole’s; and “fun” Balaga (Paul Pinto), a carefree troika driver. Don’t worry if it all doesn’t soak in immediately; there is a family tree in the program, which the cast suggests you refer to when necessary. After the prologue, a chorus declares, “Oh Pierre! Our merry feasting crank / Our most dear, most kind, most smart and eccentric / A warm-hearted Russian of the old school / His purse is always empty / Cuz it’s open to all / Oh Pierre / Just one of a hundred sad old men / Living out their final days in Moscow.” The downtrodden Pierre readily admits, “I never thought that I’d end up like this / I used to be better.” Attending an opera, Natasha sees Anatole and is instantly smitten with him, so the swaggering Anatole swoops down on her, soon proclaiming his undying love. Scandal ensues as there’s a duel, a costume ball, and various deceptions, leading to a deeply intimate and emotional conclusion.

“We are speaking of most ordinary things,” Anatole says at one point, but there is nothing ordinary about Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. Director Rachel Chavkin (The Royale, Small Mouth Sounds), who has been with the show from the start, finds endlessly inventive ways to bring this epic to life, as characters weave in and among the audience, the ensemble is always on the move, and the pace never lags for even a second. As Bradley King’s lights go down after one number, anticipation builds as to where the next song will begin. Choreographer Sam Pinkleton (Machinal, Significant Other) makes full use of the space, further involving the audience in the cast’s movements. The gorgeous costumes, by Paloma Young (Peter and the Starcatcher), range from elegant and fashionable to sexy and steam-punk. The ensemble is uniformly outstanding, from the wandering accordion players to the opera dancers (Reed Luplau and Ani Taj) to the larger roles, many of which are performed by the original Ars Nova actors, including Steele, Gray, Ashford (her “Sonya Alone” solo is stunning), Bell, Choksi, and Pinto. In her Broadway debut, Benton is both alluring and delicate as the torn Natasha, but the biggest surprise was Scott Stangland, who was subbing for an ill Josh Groban the night I went.

Scott Stangland gave an award-winning performance as Pierre of ART production of musical now on Broadway (photo © Gretjen Helene)

Scott Stangland gives award-winning performance as Pierre in ART production of musical now on Broadway (photo © Gretjen Helene)

In an 1858 letter to the editor comparing the comets of 1811 and 1858, British admiral and astronomer William Henry Smyth wrote, “In re the magnificent comet [of 1858], I have been closely attending to its fine figure; and am asked on various sides, as I had the advantage of having closely watched both, which I thought the most splendid in appearance, this, or that of 1811? Now, to my memory, which is very distinct, the palm must be given to the latter. As a mere sight-object, the branched tail was of greater interest, the nucleus with its ‘head-veil’ was more distinct, and its circumpolarity was a fortunate incident for gazers.” I feel very fortunate to have experienced the splendidly fine figure of Stangland, who played Pierre in the pre-Broadway American Repertory Theater production at Harvard in December 2015/January 2016 and who is absolutely magnificent at the Imperial, embodying Pierre as if he were born for the part. With his stout frame and bushy facial hair, he commands the audience’s attention whether taking center stage or playing the accordion or the piano in a pit. I was floored by the original presentation at Ars Nova, in which show creator Malloy, who wrote the music, lyrics, and book and did the orchestrations, played Pierre with an innate charm, and now I’ve been blown away by Stangland, who gives a profound performance that will break your heart — and left me playfully thinking, “Josh and Lin-Manuel who?”

SELECTED SHORTS: PAUL GIAMATTI CURATES STORIES FROM THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS

Paul Giamatti is hosting and curating an evening of fiction from the New York Review of Books at Symphony Space

Paul Giamatti is hosting and curating an evening of fiction from the New York Review of Books at Symphony Space

Who: Paul Giamatti, Jane Kaczmarek, Billy Porter, Kathryn Erbe
What: Paul Giamatti Curates Stories from the New York Review of Books
Where: Symphony Space, Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, 2537 Broadway at 95th St., 212-864-5400
When: Wednesday, December 7, $30 ($80 premium), 7:30
Why: For more than fifty years, the New York Review of Books has been exploring American culture, society, and politics, publishing articles by prominent writers from around the world. On December 7, Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning Brooklynite Paul Giamatti will be at Symphony Space for the latest edition of “Selected Shorts,” in which actors and other artists read specially chosen short stories. Giamatti will be curating the evening, choosing fiction from the collection of the prestigious New York Review of Books, a roster that includes W. H. Auden, Anton Chekhov, Saki, Daphne du Maurier, Elizabeth Hardwick, and so many others. “I go to the New York Review of Books for everything weird, wild, classic, and obscure,” the star of Sideways, John Adams, and American Splendor explains. “They’ve got one of the greatest collections of authors, past and present, on the planet.” Taking the stage to perform the works will be seven-time Emmy nominee Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle, Apollo 11), Tony winner Billy Porter (Kinky Boots, Shuffle Along), and Tony nominee Kathryn Erbe (Law & Order: Criminal Intent, The Speed of Darkness). The program is being held in cooperation with the NYRB Classics, a series “dedicated to publishing an eclectic mix of fiction and nonfiction from different eras and times and of various sorts.”

FALSETTOS

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Marvin (Christian Borle) and Whizzer (Andrew Rannells) fall in love and become part of an unusual extended family in FALSETTOS (photo by Joan Marcus)

Walter Kerr Theatre
219 West 48th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 8, $42-$149
www.lct.org

I saw Falsettos, James Lapine’s new revival of his and William Finn’s beloved musical, during the Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS curtain-call appeal season, when cast members across the Great White Way ask audiences to donate to the nonprofit organization that has been helping those with HIV/AIDS for nearly thirty years. Andrew Rannells made the heartfelt announcement, and people gave money as they left the Walter Kerr Theatre. Although it’s always a poignant moment, it was especially powerful after this show, which came together in the 1980s and 1990s, featuring a heartbreaking plot in which Rannells’s character, Whizzer, contracts a mysterious, deadly disease in 1981. The first act, March of the Falsettos, debuted in 1981 and takes place two years earlier, when the “gay plague” was just beginning; the second act, Falsettoland, premiered in 1990 and is set in 1981. The acts merged into Falsettos in 1992, earning seven Tony nominations and winning two awards, for Best Book and Best Original Score. (There was also an earlier one-act musical about some of the same characters, Trousers, that ran in 1979 and then was revamped in 1985.) So this Lincoln Center revival of Falsettos arrived on Broadway with quite a history; you could feel the excitement before the show started, as the theater was abuzz with friends hugging and chatting so much that the ushers had a hard time convincing everyone to take their seat. At last it got under way, with Marvin (Christian Borle), Whizzer, Jason (Anthony Rosenthal), Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz), and Trina (Stephanie J. Block) singing “Four Jews in a Room Bitching.” And from that moment on, the legend of Falsettos escaped me.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Jason (Anthony Rosenthal) swings for the fences in Lincoln Center revival of FALSETTOS on Broadway (photo by Joan Marcus)

Directed by Lapine (Act One, Finn’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee), who wrote the book with composer and lyricist Finn, Falsettos is a groundbreaking show about a new kind of extended, dysfunctional family. Marvin has left his wife, Trina, and their eleven-year-old son, Jason, for his new love, Whizzer, but he still thinks everyone can be together. “I want a tight-knit family / I want a group that harmonizes / I want my wife and kid and friend / To pretend / Time will mend / Our pain,” Marvin sings. Trina has a session with Marvin’s psychiatrist, Mendel, who instantly falls in love with her. “It’s so upsetting when I found / That what’s rectangular is round / I mean, it stinks / I mean, he’s queer / And me, I’m just a freak,” Trina explains in “I’m Breaking Down,” a showstopping number by Block that brings down the house. Two years later, lesbian couple Charlotte (Tracie Thoms) and Cordelia (Betsy Wolfe) have moved in next door and Jason is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, beset by adolescent worries about girls and more. “Would they come, though, / If they were invited, / And not laugh / At my Hebrew / And not laugh / At my father and his friends,” he opines while displaying poor baseball skills. But when Whizzer gets sick, the characters all take a new look at their lives. “Something bad is happening / Something very bad is happening / Something stinks, something immoral / Something so bad that words have lost their meaning,” Charlotte, a doctor, declares. “Rumors fly and tales abound / Stories echo underground! / Something bad / Is spreading, spreading, spreading / ’Round!”

For most of the show, David Rockwell’s set consists of a gray Rubik’s Cube-like square that the cast can take apart and put back together, creating all kinds of furniture and objects, a clever metaphor for the makeshift family they form. The music was revolutionary for its time, with unexpected starts and stops, rises and falls, and multiple pitch changes as various characters chime in and conversationally sing on top of one another (the complex orchestrations are by Michael Starobin); the lyrics, however, are now dated, and the subplot of Jason’s Bar Mitzvah is an awkward device leading to the teary conclusion. Tony nominee Block (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 9 to 5: The Musical) is sensational, giving a don’t-miss performance as a strong woman whose life is turned upside down and inside out. Tony nominee Rannells (The Book of Mormon, Girls) is superb as the beautifully sly and sweetly vain Whizzer; together Block and Rannells overwhelm two-time Tony winner Borle (Peter and the Starcatcher, Something Rotten!). Tony nominee Uranowitz (An American in Paris) and Rosenthal (Newsies, A Christmas Story) provide fine support. Falsettos is a uniquely situated coming-of-age story as characters try to find their place in a difficult life, and in an extended family that was unusual for its time. Even if it’s not quite as earth-shaking today, the show’s emotional landscape remains sadly relevant.