(Act I – March Of The Falsettos)
Act II – Falsettoland)

Book by James Lapine
Music & Lyrics by William Finn


Opened at Playwright’s Horizon 1981 performances
Broadway: The John Golden Theatre April 29, 1992 487 performances
Original Director: James Lapine
Original Choreographer: N/A
Original Producer: Playwright’s Horizon/Barry & Fran Wessler
Original Leads: Marvin: Michael Rupert Trina: Alison Fraser/Barbara Walsh/Faith Prince Mendel: Chip Zien Whizzer: Stephen Bogardus Jason: James Kushner/Jonathan Kaplan
Cast Size: Male: 4 Female: 3 Ensemble: 0 Total Cast Size: 7
Orchestra: 4 (There are six on the cast album, and that is a nice, warm, rich orchestration, if it can be secured.)
Published Script: Samuel French
Production Rights: Samuel French
Recordings: The 1992 recording from Broadway, very funny, terrific cast. Not quite complete, though, missing at least one key number (“I’m Breaking Down”), and pieces of various numbers. Still, easily the best way to get to know a remarkable score.
Film: None. (It would make a terrific low-budget film.)
Other shows by the authors: In Trousers, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, A New Brain   Lapine: Into The Woods, Sunday In The Park With George
Awards: 7 Tony nominations, won 2, for Best Book and Best Score. (This lost Best Musical to Crazy For You? A revival of an ancient Gershwin show, pretending to be a new show? Really? Crazy For You is great fun, sure, but…well, really?)


This is an intimate, small show. It’s a wonderful, entertaining show. It’s also wonderfully contained. The costs are negligible to pull it off when compared to almost any other established show with the exceptions of The Fantasticks, and You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown, both of which it strangely resembles in some ways. That makes it a very inviting choice for almost any theater company with limited resources and a small stage. Perfect for most Little Theaters (with a decent talent pool), Dinner Theaters (with a free-thinking audience), colleges and universities, regional theaters with a smaller or limited stage, rep and stock companies looking for an easy Musical to produce and slip seamlessly into a busy season (a perfect choice for that), off-Broadway producers, Broadway (in a smaller house), the West End, and your local reform temple. (Okay, just kidding about the temple…sort of. Well, think about it. The show has a very strong Jewish set of characters. And I did say a reform temple.) Also an ideal show to tour, given its almost non-existent technical needs.

Be Warned:
The many variations of love are explored brilliantly in this show. Two of the characters are gay, though one was married and has a son (who is not too sure where his own sexuality is going to land). This is out in the wide-open spaces of the theater, sung about and accepted as a common part of life. (Imagine that.) It is just another aspect of love, and really, no more unique or special in the show than the straight relationships – which is part of the beauty and fun of the show. As is stated in the opening to Act II, “It’s about learning love is not a crime.” That said, if you have a cast or audience that isn’t going to be able to accept or live with the idea of gay and straight people living around and with each other, or a frank discussion about AIDS, this is no show for you. You’ve been warned.

An extremely musical show.  If you can’t secure a strong Musical Director and a cast of strong singers, this will not work for you.  You will also need a very strong Director.

THE STORY: (Outline from Wikipedia)

ACT ONE: (MARCH OF THE FALSETTOS) It is 1979 in New York City, and Marvin, his son Jason, his psychiatrist Mendel and his male lover Whizzer are “Four Jews In A Room Bitching”. Marvin steps forward to explain his situation: He has left his wife, Trina, for Whizzer, but Marvin wants “A Tight-Knit Family” and is attempting to forge a new family situation with the addition of Whizzer, a situation no one is happy with.

Trina, on Marvin’s recommendation, pays a visit to Mendel (the psychologist) where she wearily wonders how her life has turned out this way. Mendel, instantly attracted to her, tries to console her, telling her that “Love is Blind”. Meanwhile, Marvin and Whizzer comment on their relationship. They have very little in common, apart from the fact that they both love fighting and are insanely attracted to each other. Both worry that “The Thrill of First Love” is wearing off.

The cast presents an interlude: “Marvin at the Psychiatrist, a Three-Part Mini-Opera.” In part one, Mendel asks Marvin about his relationship with Whizzer and Marvin weighs the pros and cons of the relationship, ultimately concluding that he does love Whizzer. In part two, Mendel, obviously aroused, interrogates Marvin about his ex-wife’s bedroom habits. In part three, Marvin and Jason provide counterpoint on their strained relationship.

Ten-year-old Jason is very worried that because “‘My Father’s a Homo’” he will turn out to be one too. His worries cause him to misbehave, and “Everyone tells Jason to see a Psychiatrist”. Only on Whizzer’s advice does Jason agree to see Mendel.

Marvin is trying to pigeon-hole Whizzer into the role of homemaker, and they fight. Meanwhile, Trina complains to Mendel how her role in the family is shrinking as Whizzer becomes increasingly prominent in Marvin and Jason’s lives. All agree that “This Had Better Come To A Stop”.

Despite her attempts to maintain a sense of normalcy, Trina’s is spiraling out of control (“I’m Breaking Down”). Jason continues to misbehave and Trina phones Mendel frantically to “Please Come To Our House” for dinner and therapy. Mendel arrives and immediately charms Trina. He and Jason settle down for “Jason’s Therapy”. Jason frets about his future and Mendel, in a very round-about way, encourages him to relax and enjoy life. After several such dinners combined with psychiatric sessions, Jason asks Mendel what his intentions are towards Trina. Mendel makes “A Marriage Proposal”. Though clumsy and neurotic, he’s sincere and Trina accepts his offer. Marvin is furious that he is losing his “Tight-Knit Family (Reprise)” as well as his therapist.

In “Trina’s Song”, she reflects on her situation. She is tired of the man’s world she lives in, and even though she knows that Mendel is the same kind of man Marvin is, slightly childish and neurotic, he loves her and she could do a lot worse. In contrast, the four men sing a hymn to all varieties of masculinity, with the three adults singing in falsetto to match Jason’s voice (“March of the Falsettos”).

Marvin teaches Whizzer to play chess, but bitterness and ill-feeling boil over (“The Chess Game”). They fight and break up. Meanwhile, Trina and Mendel move in together and start “Making a Home”. As he packs, Whizzer reflects on “The Games I Play” with his own heart and comes to the conclusion that he does not love Marvin.

Trina and Mendel send out wedding invitations, and Marvin goes crazy. He confronts Trina and incoherently accuses her of trying to ruin his life, finally breaking down in rage and slapping her. Shocked by his actions, both reflect that “I Never Wanted To Love You”, a sentiment Whizzer repeats to Marvin and Marvin repeats to Jason and Whizzer.

Marvin is finished with Whizzer, and his relationship with Trina is in tatters, but Marvin can still salvage his relationship with Jason, who has just discovered women to his immense relief. Marvin sits down Jason for a talk “Father to Son” and tells him that he loves him, and no matter what kind of man Jason turns out to be, Marvin will always be there for him.

ACT TWO: (FALSETTOLAND) Mendel shines a flashlight into the audience on a dark stage, welcoming us to “Falsettoland,” the story’s conclusion. It is 1981, two years later. Nancy Reagan is in the White House, and the cast has been enlarged by two, Marvin’s Lesbian neighbors Dr. Charlotte, an internist, and Cordelia, a kosher caterer. Marvin has realized that it’s “About Time” to grow up and get over himself. He has called a truce with Trina, and he has managed to maintain his relationship with Jason, who is now preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. He has not seen Whizzer for two years, and has still not gotten over him.

One day, when she arrives to take custody of Jason for the week, Trina informs Marvin that it is time to start planning Jason’s Bar Mitzvah, probably the last pleasant thing the ex-couple will do together. The pair immediately start bickering to Jason’s dismay and Mendel’s amusement. Mendel encourages them to have a simple party, but Trina (and Cordelia, the caterer) will have none of it. It is “the Year of the Child”, after all, the year that every Jewish parent dreams of: the year their child is bar mitzvahed and they can spend insane amounts of money celebrating.

The scene moves to Jason’s Little League Baseball game. While at bat, Jason has a lot more on his mind than the game. He is trying to decide which girls to invite to his bar mitzvah: the girls he should invite, or the girls he wants to invite. Reaching a decision would be a “Miracle of Judaism.” Everyone is there at “The Ball Game.” Everyone is sitting watching Jewish boys who can’t play baseball play baseball and getting a little too involved in it, when Whizzer suddenly arrives. Jason had asked him to come. Marvin is struck by how little he’s aged, and a tentative offer of reconciliation is made just as Jason manages to hit the ball. He is so shocked he forgets to run.

An interlude: “A Day in Falsettoland.” In part one, “Dr. Mendel at Work,” Mendel listens to the blather of a yuppie patient and agonizes about being a sixties shrink stuck in the eighties and how his work is taking a toll on his marriage to Trina. In part two, “Trina Works It Out”, Trina reveals Marvin and Whizzer are back together and wonders why that troubles her. In part three, “The Neighbors Relax”, Mendel and Trina jog and discuss Marvin and the Bar Mitzvah, and Dr. Charlotte comes home to Cordelia cooking “nouvelle bar mitzvah cuisine.” Cordelia asks Charlotte how her day was at the hospital, and Charlotte exclaims that today was a rare day without a death. Meanwhile, Marvin and Whizzer play racquetball and bicker when Whizzer beats Marvin soundly. All reflect on how wonderful life is.

The peace does not last long. Marvin and Trina are warring over every aspect of the Bar Mitzvah, which makes Jason want to call it off. Mendel consoles the boy, telling him that “Everyone hates his Parents” at his age, but everyone also matures and hates them less.

Marvin sits in bed one morning, looking at the sleeping Whizzer. “‘What More Can I Say?’” he asks, wondering at how much he loves him. Dr. Charlotte, meanwhile is becoming aware that “Something Bad is Happening” among young gay men in the city, who arrive at the hospital sick with a mysterious illness that no one understands. Rumors are spreading, but the disease is spreading faster. Then Whizzer collapses during a game of racquetball.

Whizzer enters the hospital, and Trina is disturbed to find how upset she is at his condition. She is barely “Holding to the Ground.”

In Whizzer’s hospital room, the entire cast gathers to cheer him up. Everyone commenting on how well he looks. Marvin provides love, Cordelia chicken soup, and Mendel some terrible jokes. Everyone agrees that is it “Days Like This” that make these secular Jews believe in God. Only Jason, in childish honesty, is able to tell Whizzer the truth: that he looks awful.

Mendel and Trina sit Jason down and give Jason the option of “Canceling the Bar Mitzvah” if he feels he can not go through with it. Jason finally learns that Whizzer may not recover. Marvin sits in Whizzer’s hospital room, soon joined by Cordelia and Dr. Charlotte, and the four “Unlikely Lovers” wonder how much longer their love can last.

As Whizzer’s condition worsens, Jason turns to God, asking him to perform another “Miracle of Judaism” by allowing Whizzer to recover. He will even get Bar Mitzvahed if Whizzer gets better. Then Dr. Charlotte reiterates that “Something Bad is Happening.” Whizzer is soon near death, and he reflects bravely that “You Gotta Die Sometime.”

Suddenly everyone bursts into the hospital room. Jason has had an epiphany: he wants to hold “The Bar Mitzvah” in Whizzer’s hospital room. Trina could not be prouder. Everyone notices how much Jason looks like Marvin. Jason becomes Bar Mitzvah. Whizzer can suddenly bear no more of their company and is taken from the room, followed by all but Marvin.

Marvin, left alone, asks the departed Whizzer “What Would I Do” if you had not been my friend?” Whizzer appears, dressed as we first saw him, and the two sing together one last time. They realize that there can be no answer to Marvin’s question — but the question remains. Then Whizzer is gone.

Marvin’s friends and family surround him, as Mendel bids the audience goodnight from the world known as “Falsettoland.”


“Four Jews in a Room Bitching”, “A Tight Knit Family”, “Love is Blind”, “Thrill of First Love”, “Marvin at the Psychiatrist (A Three-Part Mini-Opera)”, “Everyone Tells Jason to See a Psychiatrist”, “This Had Better Come to a Stop”, “I’m Breaking Down”, “Please Come to Our House”, “Jason’s Therapy”, “A Marriage Proposal”, “Trina’s Song”, “March of the Falsettos”, “Trina’s Song (Reprise)”, “The Chess Game”, “Making a Home” , “The Games I Play”, “Marvin Hits Trina”, “I Never Wanted to Love You”, “Father to Son”, “Welcome to Falsettoland”, “The Year of the Child”, “Miracle of Judaism”, “The Baseball Game”, “A Day in Falsettoland”, “The Fight/Everyone Hates His Parents”, “What More Can I Say”, “Something Bad Is Happening”, “Holding to the Ground”, “Days Like This”, “Cancelling the Bar Mitzvah”, “Unlikely Lovers”, “Another Miracle of Judaism”, “You Gotta Die Sometime”, “Jason’s Bar Mitzvah”, “What Would I Do?”


As always, feel free to ignore my observations and rating. Just don’t be surprised, then, when those falsettos march all over you.

Falsettos is one of the most fun, funniest, clever musicals of the past 30 years or so. It is nearly inexhaustibly clever. It is as contemporary as it can possibly be, it could not be a more timely show to bring a family to see, one dealing with contemporary issues of sexuality, as America seems to be doing at this time. And it’s hysterically Jewish, and I say that with great affection. If you’re a Jew and a man, this one will get you laughing. The music is clever, unusual, sometimes nearly formless, and then it will explode into melody. The lyrics are very sharp, often surprising, well-observed and steeped in humanity. Since the piece is effectively sung through, the fact that its score is unusually creative and strong is a very good thing. Mr. Finn almost never strains for rhymes, just as he does not enforce structure. He allows these things to arrive as the character’s dictate. It is a remarkable achievement in the writing of a Musical, and unique.

The show is also fearsome in its honesty. In examining many variations of love, from parent-child, to broken marriage, traditional marriage, and gay relationships, the show reaches deep and fearlessly (and almost always with humor) into the heart and the experience of almost everyone in the audience. If you’ve ever been involved in any of the above, the show will move you. (And I know you’ve been a child with a parent, or a parent with a child, or both…) If you also happen to be Jewish (as is yours truly), or if you understand the lot of the Chosen People, well, you’re going to be laughing a lot.

The show is shamelessly theatrical, another aspect of it that I admire and embrace. It breaks the fourth wall regularly, admitting with pride that it’s a Musical. It announces with glee at the opening of Act II that the show has “a teeny tiny band.” What fresh and silly fun this miniscule extravaganza holds in its heart! What a breath of air this show can be.

Can this show survive the competition of such similarly-themed (AIDS – various relationship types – pop oriented music) and far-better known evenings as Rent, a masterpiece in its own right? Sure. There are thousands of theaters out there. The two shows do share common traits in their eclectic uses of musical forms, and their themes. But Rent is a different sort of experience than Falsettos. Falsettos is lighter, airier, sunnier and more entertaining in ways. (And it’s cheaper to do by far.) Both are great shows, both should be performed often, and neither is going to “date” real soon, not in any way. (And remember, you’re getting this from a straight guy with two grown-up kids, so there.)

Listen, I can’t think of a Musical that made me laugh more, with the only possible exception being A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, and these shows make me laugh for wildly different reasons. Finn and Lapine really got the “Jewish” thing right. I was raised with it and I know. Even down to how we handle Little League in our own inefficient and untalented way, they got it all right. When the family sings with mad glee of their boy’s upcoming bar mitzvah, “we’ll spend billions of dollars…there’ll be food like never before…”, well, I could hardly breathe for laughter. And about the kid’s baseball game in Act II? Well, hell, I played Little League! I wanted to be Sandy Koufax (still my hero)! I stunk up the field! I understand. I laughed through much of this show out of a sense of identification which you may or may not share. But this is my opinion section, and that’s what you’re getting here.

I identified with more of the show. I have kids, as I mentioned. I’ve been through the ups and downs of that relationship, as is spelled out so effectively and with so much heart in this show. More. When Mendel the shrink (and my only complaint is I wish he were not a shrink, I have very little respect for that profession – and of course, he doesn’t seem to get many results, so it’s all good) complains that he doesn’t get the Reagan mystique and the Reagan view of life, the “it’s all about me” generation, I’m with him. I’ve sung that song almost every day of my life, with my own little tune and lyrics. It’s spot-on honest, and I share his sense of alarm at where things are going.

If you do the show and I’m in the neighborhood, invite me so I can come by and identify and laugh some more. And if you do a reasonably good job, I’ll be touched again by the plight of human beings, all looking for love and paying the price that demands. And I’ll be reminded why Musicals are important.

A wonderful show, unlike any other. A real challenge for seven performers who sing very well and are strong actors. A real challenge for a Director and Musical Director – and for an audience. And abundantly worth the challenge.

MY RATING: *** (An exceptional show, bordering on (if not) perfect, and one of my personal favorites.)



The music is complex. It does not follow any standard song construction. The songs tend to go where Mr. Finn “felt” them, where they demanded to go on an emotional and artistic level. They may well seem at times to be almost free form, but they’re not. There is a defined and sophisticated structure at work in each number and it is discernible, but perhaps not at first listen. This is the work of a musical visionary in many respects.

The music is also eclectic in that it borrows from established and older forms of music in a pastiche-like manner. Everything from fugues (and the counterpoints are pretty delicious) to almost ragtime-like jazz, to 80′s power ballads turned on their head, is fair game. And I should mention that the piece is largely sung-through. And it tends toward the kinetic, it’s lively. That’s a lot of aggressive music of sometime wildly varying sorts.

I think, to Musical Direct this score will require patience and skill. One would certainly need to start with a thorough study of it. It will not yield easily to a first-time-listening understanding. But of course, that is precisely what must occur for an audience watching the show, so the need for utter clarity on the part of the cast and musicians is paramount. The lyrics are fantastic, and must be both heard clearly and understood by cast and audience to mean what they mean. This is a make-break point for this show. Music is used to accentuate and amplify the meaning of the lyrics – the show has fascinating and fun and occasionally gorgeous music, but it is ever in service to the lyrics, the text and the characters, another unusual achievement for this show.

Another warning – the show is unusually rich with counterpoint for the singers, more than any show I can think of, actually. The Musical Director must be good at teaching counterpoint, and getting clean, clear performances of it. It would help if the cast reads music, but as ever, that isn’t likely. This is a score that will take time to teach, and you’ll need to start early.

So, your Musical Director needs to be 1) expert at many musical forms and styles, 2) inexhaustible as the score is going to keep his hands moving rapidly over the keyboard forever, 3) very good at analyzing and understanding a complex score, and 4) able to transmit with clarity the understandings arrived at to the cast and small band. In short, a highly skilled Musical Director only should work this show. If you don’t have such a person, oy…do Hello, Dolly, instead.

One more note – an effort must be made to differentiate the many upbeats and their tempi. (Yes, that is accepted plural for tempo.) There are many upbeats, often stacked against each other, and they each must feel unique, an event unto itself. That’s going to take some work and experimentation in rehearsal, and it’s important. The only thing the recording I recommended did not do well was this.

All your cast must harmonize extremely well, handle various pop styles and counterpoint, and never stop acting while singing. Generally, the material isn’t stupendously rangy, which is a blessing in this case.

Marvin – Lyric baritone. A clear voice, capable of some warmth. A decent belt.

Trina – Mezzo. Perhaps the hardest vocal role. Must be very strong in her mid-register, a belt is more-or-less required. Some good, supported high notes.

Whizzer – Tenor. Strong mid-range, fair bottom range.

Jason – Tenor (jewvenile…er, juvenile). A strong 12-13 year old male tenor voice. Not a rangy role, but must belt, sing with warmth and anger well.

Mendel – Lyric baritone. Warmest of the male voices, the most easy to listen to.

Dr. Charlotte – Mezzo. Must sing with real heart and emotion. Rangy role, comparatively. Get a strong voice. (Generally more is asked vocally of the women in the show than the men, though the singing is fairly evenly distributed.)

Cordelia – Soprano. Clear, strong, ringing high notes, a strong mid-range.


A show for a very creative Director who is comfortable with some movement, rather than one requiring a separate Choreographer. That said, if the Director needs help with some dance in the show, it should be expertly provided.

There are no “dance numbers” in the show, per say. But there is a fair amount of movement called for, and some minimal dance that helps liven up the proceedings.

I would recommend that movement can be an important part of at least “Four Jews in a Room Bitching”, “This Had Better Come to a Stop”, “March of the Falsettos”, “Marvin Hits Trina”, “Welcome to Falsettoland”, “The Year of the Child”, definitely “The Baseball Game”, “A Day in Falsettoland”, “Days Like This”, and perhaps “Jason’s Bar Mitzvah”.

Whatever choreography you place in the show, it will need to walk a fine line. The show is overtly theatrical. It makes a virtue of being a piece of theater. It breaks the fourth wall. Choreography, then, can be “showy” and fun, and overtly theater, and can in fact have some fun at theatrical choreography’s expense. Silly tap dancing and Fosse-like moves could help inject some vitality where needed.

At the same time, many of the numbers have a truly organic sensibility. They emerge from the depths of the souls of the characters, and the funnier they are, the more there is often some pain underlying the expressed sentiment. So honesty in the movement will be required in many places, and a sense that the piece isn’t so much choreographed as discovered.

How to align these two seemingly disparate sensibilities? Good question. Pick your battles. Know that numbers like “Four Jews in a Room Bitching”, “This Had Better Come to a Stop” and “The Year of the Child” are the organic brand of angst in this show. Other numbers like “Welcome to Falsettoland” are pure theater. There are a few places in the script where “dance” is indicated. They would be “theater.” A bit tongue in cheek, perhaps.

A number like “March Of The Falsettos” should be hysterical and ridiculous, men parading about like, well, um, men, singing in falsetto. People pretending to be things they think they should be, trying to do the “right thing” is a big part of this show, and this number embodies that theme. Have some fun with it.

“The Baseball Game”, with everyone but Jason in the stands as he thoroughly embarrass himself on the field, should be a comic wonder of standing, shouting, sitting, all staged within an inch of its life. I remembered this number in the original production I saw as the comic highlight. All energy, angst-ridden parents and friends, and an utterly confused and in-over-his-head kid. And a beautiful metaphor (or simile) for how they will all root for Whizzer when he is dying of AID, ½ hour later. The rooting is genuine, the pain and anger and anguish felt at Jason’s failure is typical of any baseball parent.

“The Year Of The Child” is also a comic wonder. The madness that envelopes Jason’s parents as they plan to “spend billions” can take the form of a demented dance, perhaps. Could be fun as he watches, horrified.

As a Choreographer, listen carefully to the score for things like sustained waltzes, Latin rhythms that suddenly assert themselves, Bach-like counterpoints that erupt from nowhere. These are your best friends when looking for something that will resemble choreography.

Any decent Choreographer can do this show. It is an easy job. A Director comfortable with movement should do it alone.


Don’t mess around with this. Get the casting right, it’s essential.

Marvin – Mid 30s-early 40s. A somewhat handsome, appealing man. Jewish (need I remind you?). A man who wants it all, the family, love, a great kid who gets the big bar mitzvah – everything. And curiously, a lot of it works out, even as he bitches and whines. I’m not sure what he does for a living outside of have a relationship and family, but there it is. Cast a fine actor who is the right type, who sings well and can do some movement, in that order. As is true of the entire cast of seven, he must be strong in every department.

Trina - A few years younger than Marvin. Jewish (of course). High strung, sometimes overwhelmed with the complexity of her life. Attractive, as two men fall for her, Mendel pretty quickly. The kind of person who makes up her mind and that’s it, until life kicks her in the head and she must rethink. A good heart in there, who wants the same things Marvin wants – everything. Cast for voice, acting, type, some movement, in that order.

Whizzer - 20s -30s. Only ½ Jewish (not everyone is perfect). An attractive, bright man, and gay. Somewhat self-involved, but he adores Jason, and is a better father to him in ways than anyone else is. A man filled with love though it would have perhaps been easier for him if he were not. Must play a death by AIDS convincingly. By the way, should have a beautiful baseball swing. Cast for acting, voice, type, some movement.

Jason - 12-13. (Cast older for that age if possible, or needed.) Jewish (and why not?). A bright, interested young man in the making. At first concerned about his own sexuality, he discovers girls and everything is right with the world. A typical 13 year old so far as his troubled relationship with his parents. Cast for acting, voice, type, some movement.

Mendel - 30s-40s. Jewish (and who isn’t?). A psychologist who dislikes most of his patients, they bore him. But he wants what everyone in this show wants – everything. He is the outsider in a way, looking at Marvin/Trina/Jason as the newcomer, trying to find his place, his way in. Selfish in that he marries a woman he’s treating, and is treating Marvin at that time as well, and perhaps somewhat unprofessional. I doubt this concerns him much, when love beckons. Cast for acting, voice, type, some movement.

Dr. Charlotte – 30s-40s. A dedicated and professional doctor who sees the AIDS crises as it first blooms, and recognizes it as a great evil. An impatient woman who does not hesitate to speak her mind. Gay and perhaps somewhat private about it outside of her comfort zone group. The least “funny” character in the show. Cast for acting, voice, type, some movement.

Cordelia – About Charlotte’s age, perhaps a touch younger. Experimenting with food endlessly, she becomes talented at food creations. Charlotte’s lover, she has a good heart and becomes involved, if somewhat reluctantly, in what Charlotte and Whizzer are going through. But she tends to keep her focus on food, perhaps to avoid what is happening around her, to isolate herself. Cast for voice, acting, type, some movement.


There are numerous locations indicated in the script, but all are merely suggested by a few chairs, a few pieces of furniture brought on or off. A bare stage will work for this show. It’s overtly theatrical, after all. You may want to wheel in stands for the baseball game, or at least benches. You may need a hospital bed for Whizzer. When we see Whizzer and Marvin in bed together, chairs will do. Perhaps a dinner table for the wooing of Mendel and Trina. It is all representational, don’t get literal with much of anything!

The Designer should work closely with the Director. The stage may benefit from some sort of theatrical theme. You might lower the lighting grid to make it visible, as a reminder again this is live theater. You might place the teeny, tiny band on stage somewhere toward the back and side, and build them into the look of the show. Get creative, and stay cheap. An easy job.


All modern, right for the characters. Can be pulled off the rack, or out of closets. Just remember that the actors will be singing a lot, they have to be able to breathe. The white doctor’s long coat for Charlotte. Whizzer’s hospital garb. Perhaps racquet ball shorts and tennis shoes for Whizzer and Marvin. A baseball uniform for Jason. An easy assignment.


Racquet ball paddles. All that food, all “Jewish.” Hospital paraphernalia, doctor gear for Charlotte. There will probably be many props, but most will be simple to get. Not too hard an assignment.


Very important! Without much of a set, the lighting must indicate where we are. It must isolate attention as the scenes rapidly transition. There are likely to be many quick blackouts at the end of numbers (and it’s all numbers), so your timing must be great.

Lots of cues! You’ll need a good board.

The lighting should be rich with diversity, and can be overtly theatrical at times. You can use follow spots for overtly “theater” numbers, it will help them feel more like cornball theater. You might even drop in a colored gel. Yup.

I think the lighting should be great fun in and of itself, a distinct and creative aspect of the show’s overall mood and design and well-coordinated by the Director. A job for a pro.


Unobtrusive. Don’t go nuts with AIDS make-up for Whizzer, please. An easy assignment.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Lighting Director, The Cast.

I saw this show when it first came to Los Angeles, decades ago, and I remembered loving it. But I couldn’t recall much else about it until I read the script and studied the score. Then I remembered what I liked about it – which was just about everything. I remember Mr. Lapine’s staging was outrageously creative and alive, and I recommend strongly to you that you get your hands on the best and most creative Director of Musical Theater you can, if you plan doing this show. Your Director and Musical Director, along with your cast and pianist, will be your make-break points. Get those right, you’ll have a big winner. Get them wrong, really any of them, and there will be something rotten in the state of…where do you live, again?

This is a sturdy show, though. If your Musical Director can teach the score and your actors execute it, it’s going to be fun and moving. It is very cheap to produce so far as Musicals go. It’s tech requirements outside of lighting are almost non-existent. What a great pick for a lot of theater companies!