This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Playbill.
“I don’t think there’s any other show that I’ve lived like I’ve lived this show,” says Stephen Bogardus from the balcony of the Walter Kerr Theatre, where the new revival of William Finn and James Lapine’s Falsettos opens October 27.
Overlooking a stage set with adult-sized building blocks, his original co-star, Michael Rupert, adds, “Marvin was really the first adult that I played. It was like I had lived this role.”
Rupert and Bogardus aren’t exaggerating. They were 29 and 27, respectively, when they bowed as Marvin and Whizzer in 1981’s March of the Falsettos at Playwrights Horizons. Nine years later they reunited at Playwrights for 1990’s Falsettoland, then recreated their “tight-knit family” on Broadway in 1992 when both one acts were wed for what is now known as Falsettos. Now the two have come to pay a visit to the revival’s it couple, Christian Borle (in the role of Marvin) and Andrew Rannells (as his lover Whizzer).
Falsettos is the story of an unconventional bond. After Marvin leaves his wife and son for another man, he and his family are thrown into an existential crisis. With the help of therapy and their lesbian neighbors, this Reagan-era nuclear family is ultimately galvanized as they cope with planning a bar mitzvah while the AIDS crisis looms at their door.
“As a gay man, I had also grown up through the whole AIDS crisis, and had lost friends and had relationships where we threw chess boards at each other and had great breakup sex,” Rupert adds. “That was a reality in my life. I was never married or had a kid, but there were other things in Marvin that I could certainly identify with.”
The role of Marvin marks a graduation and, in many ways, a turning point for Borle as well. “I’ve been playing some larger-than-life characters as of late,” he says, referencing his devilish—and Tony-winning—turns in Peter and the Starcatcher and Something Rotten! “The last person that I played who was closest to myself was Emmett in Legally Blonde. So, it’s nice, ten years later, to play another three-dimensional person. I’ve also had experiences that are very similar in terms of what Marvin’s been through, personally. At this point in my life, now I understand it.”
“Listening to the albums so much and never having seen it, I think you make sense of things in a way in your head because there’s not as much connective tissue on those recordings,” Rannells says. “I thought I knew it, but to actually learn the material, you realize just how dense and complex all of these moments are. You think, ‘That’s just a song,’ but once you learn it you go, ‘Oh, that’s a scene.’”
Borle adds, “The hardest part has been the meta aspect of loving this show and being honored to do it. Having to tamp down those two levels of emotion has been exhausting. I never get to let it out, because you can’t weep through the end of the show.”
When the newly coupled Falsettos bowed on Broadway in 1992, the AIDS crisis raged unabated and equal rights for LGBT individuals remained a distant dream. The world Finn and Lapine created onstage was the same reality that awaited many audience members outside theatre doors.
“We would be filtering out of the stage door and so many people would grab you and tell you what the show meant to them right then and there in their life,” Bogardus remembers. “The fact that there was a gay protagonist, that we were taking on AIDS and talking about a different kind of family, and these were people that never had—certainly the gay community—figures like that in a show.”
For many, Falsettos stands as a musical about the ties that bond: The family we cobble together using the best from the tribe we were born into and the one we choose for ourselves.
That feeling rings “very true” for Rannells. “My experience of New York is about moving very far away from home and having to make up your version of family with friends and co-workers.”
Rupert recalls, “When we were putting it together, Lapine kept saying, ‘This is not a gay story. This is a story about family and about relationships.’ Everyone in the audience could identify. They felt loss. They felt separation. So many of the things that Falsettos was about, they’d been through.”
“I think what resonates now, given the changes that we’ve seen, happily, is the family part,” Borle observes. “Trying to figure out what family means now. We are still trying to create new families. That clumsiness of these people trying to sort that out, I think, is what people will recognize very clearly in this day and age.”