By Remy Sisk
In keeping with their season’s theme of family, Pandora Productions is in the midst of their run of “Falsettos,” a musical that chronicles the tribulations and triumphs of an expanded family: a man, his ex-wife, his psychiatrist, his gay lover, his son and his two lesbian neighbors. The show is not only a hilarious examination of what it means to be a family, it is also a deeply sombre commentary on the AIDS crisis, putting into perspective the significance of supporting one another and embracing the joys of life no matter how passing they may seem.
“Falsettos,” was the first show ever produced by Pandora in 1995, and it has been on Producing Artistic Director Michael J. Drury’s list to return to for years. But the time never really felt right – until now. “This year, with Actors Theatre revisiting ‘Angels in America,’ it just seemed like now was the time,” Drury relates. “One of the reasons [we chose this show] is because the political climate is so similar now to what it was when Reagan was in office and the AIDS crisis hit and nothing was really done. That to me is commentary enough and reason enough to do it.”
However, the story explores much more thematic material beyond the devastation of a 1981 AIDS diagnosis. Coming off the season opener and audience hit “Sordid Lives,” which explored a more typical family, Drury was eager to depict how “Falsettos” defines “family.” “Certainly ‘Sordid Lives’ is around a whole family – and so is ‘Falsettos’ – but it also helps redefine family like we define it now,” he emphasizes. “In that time period, we looked at the nuclear family as a man, woman and two-and-a-half kids. But it seemed to me that through the late 1970s and early ’80s – the time period of this play – the LGBTQ community started to define it differently.”
It is robust subject matter to be sure, and as the show is nearly all sung, Drury needed to cast not only singers but singers who could act through song. He emphasizes that he couldn’t be prouder of this ensemble of actors, but one in particular has exhibited a truly profound growth over the course of the rehearsal process for “Falsettos.” Lauren McCombs, an actress who has worked with a variety of companies in town, plays Trina, the hero’s ex-wife. Primarily a rock belter, McCombs was pushed by Drury to find the more emotional, thoughtful side of her voice.
“I chatted with Lauren and said, ‘I would like to challenge you to find the warmth in your voice. I know you can do bright, but I’d love for you to find the warmth,’ because her character has some really beautiful ballads that really advance the plot along and the love and emotion and the figuring out of how all of these people fit into this family,” Drury says. “Ever since, she has been working on it, and there is a woman singing on that stage now, not a girl.”
But McCombs is one in a cast of seven, a group that tells the interweaving stories of this family and help us understand that family can be whatever we want it to be. Through its compounded narratives, “Falsettos” illustrates that family isn’t always who you’re related to but rather who’s there for you in any situation – whether at the Bar Mitzvah or in the hospital room – helping you find all the fleeting joy life has to offer. VT
Continues through November 19
The Henry Clay Theatre