Creating a chosen family is a concept that blends well with progressive San Francisco values, and when the person choosing is neurotic and self-centered with overweening patriarchal tendencies, the results are fraught with more than a dash of traditional family dysfunction, as seen in “Falsettos.”
“Welcome to Falsettoland!” is the oft-repeated lyric in “Falsettos,” an evolution of two one-act musicals (“March of the Falsettos” and “Falsettoland”) from a trio of Off-Broadway works by William Finn and James Lapine onstage at the Golden Gate Theatre. (The first installment, “In Trousers,” is not included.)
Marvin (Max von Essen) is the erstwhile master builder and the link between his overly mature and analytical son Jason (Thatcher Jacobs on opening night, alternating with Jonah Mussolino), his equally neurotic ex-wife Trina (Eden Espinosa), his handsome younger lover Whizzer (Nick Adams), and Mendel (Nick Blaemire), his psychiatrist who develops a yen for Trina.
Later in the evening come “the lesbians next-door,” Dr. Charlotte (Bryonha Marie Parham) the internist and her insecure kosher caterer lover Cordelia (Audrey Cardwell).
As the evening progresses, it becomes odder and odder that these people enable Marvin who, despite professing good intentions, manages to oppress everyone in his orbit and break, often literally, anything in his path. It takes a profound personal loss to finally shed a redemptive light on Marvin, and it’s a testament to Finn and Lapine that their writing keeps him from being completely insufferable.
Credit also goes to von Essen, whose natural charm, looks and considerable talent imbue this emotional manipulator with at least a surface layer of appeal. The rest of the company is equally strong.
As Marvin’s seemingly shallow boytoy, Adams generates palpable heat and some great moves in their ode to first love and domestic squabbling, and demonstrates smarts in his relationship with Jason that Marvin and Trina would do well to learn.
Blaemire, whose wiry, spring-loaded Mendel starts off a little professionally pervy, as he hits on a client, emerges as a stable center for the group.
Espinosa has perfected the manic meltdown, and her performance suffers only from a combination of diction and sound design that obscures some of her possibly funniest material.
The sung-through book and score are, on one level, an embarrassment of riches with almost three dozen songs (not counting reprises) that at times feel like too much of a good thing.
The material, first crafted in the early 1980s, also feels a little dated in the details, but the people onstage are so good and so true that it is impossible to not relax into the warmth of their group hug. Welcome to Falsettoland!
Presented by SHN
Where: Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes April 14
Tickets: $56 to $226
Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com