Thoughts on “Falsettos”

“Falsettos” is coming back to Broadway next year.

I have complicated feelings about this show.

“Falsettos” was the first Broadway show I ever saw by myself. It was May 1992. I was 18. I’d just come home from my first year of college in Virginia a week and a half earlier. I’d only recently started to deal with my sexuality; toward the end of the academic year, I’d made my first gay friend — a fellow student named Kirk — and come out to him. He was the first person I’d ever come out to besides my therapist. I wasn’t sure whether I was gay or bi, but I knew I liked guys. I’d still never had a sexual encounter with anyone, but I was excited to have told someone, yet terrified of what my parents would think if I ever told them. Would they hate me? Disown me? Stop helping me financially? I’d grown up following the rules, staying within the lines. I didn’t know if I wanted to live a “gay life,” whatever that even was.

And then one Wednesday morning I took the bus into the city by myself and bought a matinee ticket for “Falsettos.” I can’t remember whether Kirk had told me about it or I’d read the review in the paper myself the previous month, but it was a gay musical and I wanted to see it.

I was probably one of the youngest people in the audience. For someone who was 18, sexually ambivalent, worried about going against what his parents wanted, and scared of AIDS, it was overwhelming. A story about a man who leaves his wife and breaks up his family so he can be with his lover, and then the lover dies of AIDS at the end? How was that supposed to make me feel? I was terrified. If that’s what it meant to be gay, no thanks.

And although some of the music was lush and complex, much of it was irritating, like jackhammers in my brain. And I didn’t like the Jewish stereotypes: a number called “Four Jews In a Room Bitching,” a number about how Jewish kids couldn’t play sports, Chip Zien’s entire character.

I came home that night and my parents asked me what show I’d seen and I told them, and they joked about how the audience must have been filled with male couples. I laughed, uncomfortable inside.

A few weeks later we watched the Tonys, which included an excerpt from the show. A few days after that, we got together with my aunt and uncle, and the Tonys came up in conversation, and they all said how terrible the show seemed from that baseball song. I cringed, because although I thought maybe they were right, I also felt like they were unknowingly insulting me.

The summer went by and then I went back to college, where I now lived across the hall from Kirk. He had a copy of the Falsettos double album, and I borrowed it from him and listened to it by myself a lot. That fall he went up to New York and saw the show by himself, and, as he later told me, he sat in the front row and bawled. (His father had died the previous year.) Michael Rupert made eye contact with him from the stage. When Kirk got back to Virginia, he wrote Michael Rupert a heartfelt letter, enclosing a play he’d written and his phone number. Michael Rupert called and left a message on his answering machine – he said he’d read the play and it was quite wonderful. He played me the message.

That’s about it. I bought the “Falsettos” CD for myself and played it occasionally, until I eventually moved on to other things

More than 20 years later, I’m still not sure what I think of the show. The score is alternately beautiful and annoying. The Jewish stereotypes irk me. The show takes me back to when I was 18 and confused and was shown a vision of gay life that was scary and sad and too much for me.

I’m sure I’ll see the new production next year. I’m curious to see if my opinions will have changed.

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