“Falsettos,” the filmed revival of a fabulous musical, comes to the Film Center next week. It is based on the book by James Lapine and William Finn, who also wrote the music and lyrics. A special fundraiser for the Film Center, “Falsettos” screens Thursday, August 10, and should not to be missed. An earlier screening has already sold out. The original 1992 Broadway production won two Tonys and was revived in 2016, providing the “Live from Lincoln Center” filmed version that will screen at the Film Center.
Seven actors play members of an extended Jewish family in 1979. Marvin, played by Christian Borle, is married to Trina (Stephanie J. Block), and they have a 10-year-old son, Jason (Anthony Rosenthal). Once Marvin decides he’s gay and moves in with Whizzer (Andrew Rannells), this cozy family explodes. Trina takes up with Marvin’s psychiatrist, Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz), further complicating things for Jason and his dad. In addition to the theme of what happens when homosexuality fractures a heterosexual family, there are issues about masculine identity, signaled by Mendel singing, “It’s about time to grow up.”
Two years later, the dysfunctional family starts planning Jason’s bar mitzvah, and the ominous threat of AIDS comes into the picture. Doctor and lesbian neighbor Charlotte (Tracie Thoms) sings, “Something bad is happening,” predicting the emerging epidemic. Lest the story seem too grim, many comic moments enter the picture, like “We’re watching Jewish boys play baseball, who can’t play baseball.” Another has Cordelia (Betsy Wolfe), a caterer who is Charlotte’s partner, testing hors d’oeuvres that aren’t too tasty. Marvin and Whizzer split up, but a conflicted Jason still wants Whizzer to come to his bar mitzvah. “Everyone hates his parents,” Mendel advises Jason. Whizzer contracts AIDS, but lest that seem like an inevitably grim ending, things come together in an unusual and heartwarming way.
Many aspects of “Falsettos” make the musical dynamite fare. It’s no wonder the 2016 production earned five Tony nominations. The dialogue, as the examples cited illustrate, is right on, and well articulates the memorable songs. Examples include Trina’s “I’m Breaking Down,” and the group song, “I Never Wanted to Love You.” The simple and very appropriate set has an urban skyline in the background. In center stage, the characters move around sections of a large gray cube to formulate many different scenes — furniture for an apartment, Mendel’s therapy office, and places to sit or recline. The choreography is a potently welcome addition, helping articulate how different aspects of the storyline contribute and enforce one another.
Opening Thursday, August 3, is Errol Morris’s latest documentary, “The B Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography.” It is a charming work about an important photographer, and very different from Morris’ earlier, well-known work like “The Thin Blue Line,” and Oscar winner “The Fog of War.” Dorfman took many self-portraits, and says they helped her create portraits of other people. She is best known for the large-format Polaroid photos she took for 30 years until Polaroid went out of business. Allen Ginsberg is one of the many celebrities she photographed. “I am interested in the surfaces of people,” she says in the film. “Not their souls.” The title comes from the portraits she has taken, where she makes two images and lets the subjects pick one. She keeps the other. She also says that the ultimate meaning of a photograph comes when the person dies. The pleasure of Morris’ “The B Side” exists in the way he uses Dorfman’s photos to tell the story.
For information and tickets on these and other Film Center films, go to mvfilmsociety.com.