Before Rent, before Angels in America, there was the 1992 Tony-winner Falsettos, the Broadway hit that broke new ground with its honest depiction of homosexual romance, family relationships, and the advance of AIDS. StageQ's "concert production" (running through Feb. 3 at the Bartell Theatre), like Falsettos itself, contains moments of struggle and of powerful beauty.
Middle-aged New Yorker Marvin (Bruce Wheeler) is trying to repair relationships with his agitated ex-wife, Trina (Audrey Highton), his unhappy lover, Whizzer (Joe Hammes), and his adolescent son, Jason (Simon Hendriques). But when Trina begins a romance with Marvin's psychiatrist, Mendel (Bob Moore), Marvin's "tight-knit family" is destined for even messier entanglements.
Because the show is essentially an opera, with its plot revealed entirely through song, Falsettos retains its cohesion as a concert. However, the recital-style staging tends to minimize dramatic action, causing an occasional lag. The performers carry copies of the score (despite the fact that most have the music memorized), creating a sense of constraint between characters as well as between performers and audience. Fortunately, many other factors combine to give the production sincerity and verve.
Director Greg Harris' colorful 3-D chessboard set provides an eloquent background. Pianist Kenneth Kusiak pours out two and a half hours of flawless accompaniment, and the cast's facility with composer William Finn's interwoven conversational melodies is impressive. Jason and Mendel's duet "Everyone Hates His Parents" and the full-cast number "Play Baseball" are musically witty. Darker moments are handled with skill by Hammes, whose Whizzer is funny, vulnerable and astute, especially in his solo "You Gotta Die Sometime."
As the conflicted Marvin, Wheeler is absolutely magnificent. From up-tempo ensemble numbers to arias like the stunning "Father to Son" and "What Would I Do?" he moves with assurance and style. Falsettos marks Wheeler's return to the stage after a 10-year hiatus. Welcome back.