Brandon Uranowitz is dreaming of Falsettoland. The re-broadcast of the Live From Lincoln Center taping of the 2016 Lincoln Center Theater revival of William Finn and James Lapine’s Falsettos—this time as a sing-along—airs at 8 PM ET June 25 on Broadway HD, which has brought the Tony nominee back to his time as Mendel.
Mendel is, of course, family psychiatrist to Marvin and Trina and their son Jason, after Marvin comes out and leaves his wife for his lover, Whizzer. Family dynamics further complicate when Mendel and Trina become involved, Whizzer is diagnosed with HIV, and they’re all still trying to plan Jason’s bar-mitzvah.
“I'll always relish any opportunity to revisit it. It's a reminder of a really, really special time for me because it was such a milestone for me and my career and my life personally,” Uranowitz says. The role earned him the second of his three Tony nominations, after An American In Paris.
But Falsettos holds a richer history for Uranowitz. As a gay Jewish kid, Uranowitz saw himself and his family in pieces of this story; as a person always drawn to psychology, he felt himself in Mendel. Here, the star talks about the legacy of Falsettos, what it means to air it today—in the midst of a pandemic and a revitalized wave of the Civil Rights movement—the importance of Pride, and some secret moments to catch in the free BroadwayHD showing June 25 at 8PM ET.
The Falsettos cast has been visibly close. Is there any plan for the cast to FaceTime or Zoom watch party or just group text-watch together?
We have been talking about it because there's this sort of ongoing [joke]—I don’t know if I'm like sort of breaking some sort of silent agreement or bonds, but—there was a time when a few of us went down to Disney World as a cast. We were in the car on the way home from the airport. And I was putting together my 54 Below show [The Songs of William Finn], and I had sort of made the joke, like what if rather than just doing Bill Finn's canon, I brought us all out on stage and we did a sing-along version Falsettos? But it was kind of hilarious because we were doing it as a call-and-response. Like, “Do you love him?!” “Sorta kinda!” “Do you need him?” “Sorta kinda!” and “When I say love, you say is blind. Love” “Is blind” “Love” “Is blind!” We just sort of thought it was like totally absurd and ridiculous. And now it's actually happening! Maybe we should [have a Zoom watch party]. That's a good idea. I hadn't really even thought about it. I think it would also just be nice for us to revisit it together.
What in particular from this story stays with you today?
I've just been thinking a lot about visibility lately, and sort of the stock that we give visibility. Right. Something about Falsettos that was so important to me, like a watershed moment in my life as a kid, was finally seeing real, contemporary Jewish kids and a real, contemporary Jewish family going through something as Jewish people like culturally. Also the gay storyline as a gay kid. So that was really important for me and vital for my constitution as an actor and as a person and as a gay man. I was like, “Oh my God, there's something other than Fiddler on the Roof that celebrates Jewish people in this way." It was like a very much a show about Jewish people with a guy named Mendel. There's also an entire act about a bar mitzvah that's sort of clouded by the AIDS epidemic, which is also just very important to me to see as a young struggling gay Jewish kid.
I've been thinking about that a lot right now, especially with Black Lives Matter and the idea of visibility. Especially right now, a lot of us are just sort of waking up to things that have been in front of us this whole time, but we haven't really analyzed them in a critical way. Something that's really interesting to me is that yes, there was a visibility and I could see myself in this story. And I'm realizing now, you know, the Black community has some semblance of visibility—stories and characters that they can see themselves in. But the difference for me is that the umbrella over all of that was, and I didn't know this, but there was essentially visibility and representation of my people in positions of power in the theatre world. There were Jewish, artistic directors, there were Jewish producers, there were Jewish directors, like all of those, you know? I had just assumed that visibility was enough, and I'm realizing now visibility is not enough.
So I'm really excited that it's happening and people are going to get to experience it. But I think what I want people to know is yes, it's a story about certain marginalized, queer people, but they're also kind of well off and they're privileged within the story and the forces that created the story and the forces that brought the story to Broadway and the forces that brought the story to people's attention were sort of run by white people in power.
Is there a piece of Mendel that you hold on to, that is still in your body, or that you feel you took with you after the show closed?
I adore Mendel and I adored his gumption. Ultimately he's a pretty unethical guy. But his ability to listen was also just really helpful for me in, in the show. He did teach me to be more present. I have to say—not many people know this, but I sort of always have one foot in the psychology world. Back in 2013, I applied to Columbia for psychology. I was going to go get my postbac certificate and then go and get my PhD. Then all of a sudden my career took off and I had to defer my acceptance and never went. That was just like a weird connection because then all of a sudden I was playing a therapist on stage
I feel in the theater industry particularly we can take Pride and Pride month for granted because the culture is so prevalent in our industry. But tell me about the importance of celebrating Pride and celebrating it so visibly.
This is another thing that I've been thinking a lot about, particularly this month for obvious reasons. We do take Pride month for granted. I was actually talking to Zach, my partner, about this last night. I feel like the gay community is sort of the bedrock of the theatre industry, which was just sort of exacerbated by the massive loss that we endured in the ’80s and ’90s from the AIDS epidemic that disproportionately affected our community. Because of that massive presence ofthe gay community within the theatre, Zach and I were talking about how we never really need to go to gay bars. I've never been to Fire Island. We don't really do that. I think because we are surrounded by that community every day. So it's easy for us to take it for granted. What I'm hoping happens right now, besides visibility, is intersectionality. We have to take the inevitability of gayness in our industry apart and acknowledge the intersectionality of it. We include gay people of color. [The movement] includes trans people, it includes trans people of color. It includes trans masculinity. It includes all of it. We have had a very monolithic view of what gay culture is. We are not a monolith just like the Black community is not a monolith.
Well said. Back to Falsettos, specifically, I know you all watched the Live From Lincoln Center version together. Is there anything audiences should look for? Was there a mistake caught on camera? Are there hidden Easter eggs?
I can't even remember what the lyrics are because I just always f*cked them up. There was a part at the very end, the prayer that Mendel gives over Jason at his bar mitzvah in the hospital. I never got the order of the lyrics right.
Your Hebrew school teachers are coming for you.
Bill Finn came for me enough, so like, it's fine. Also, if you listen really, really hard at the very, very, very beginning of “Four Jews in a Room Bitching” as we are coming together for that first image of us in the frame with our canes, there was this story that Andrew told of this woman. She's an actress. I'm not going to say who it is, but she told this story to Andrew, just out of the blue. She was like [in this accent], “You know, Brynna was in China with a torn meniscus...” Every night, one of us would like, say that as the murmuring and the mumbling of us kvetching and “bitching.” The night we recorded it, I'm pretty sure we all said it. Listen close.