“Falsettos,” a story about life, love and sex will take the stage in the Alex and Fay Spanos Theatre for its opening show tonight. The Tony Award-winning musical comedy is put on by the theatre and dance department and by director and assistant professor of theatre arts Ginny Anderson.
The show will take the audience back to the late ‘70s to early ‘80s when the AIDS epidemic was first recognized in headlines and medical journals nationwide. And yet, the musical — which is entirely in song — calls attention to more than just this epidemic.
“It’s a show about love, and it’s a show about family,” Anderson said. “And, it was the first musical to deal with the AIDS crisis in any way, shape or form.”
“Falsettos” premiered in 1992, two years before another popular AIDS-based musical took to broadway — “Rent.”
Yet, it was “Falsettos” that caught Anderson’s eye as a 16-year-old in Buffalo, NY. She said she remembers reading about the musical in her local paper. The focus on homosexuality and AIDS turned what she knew as musical theater on its head and intrigued her.
“The show opened my eyes so much,” Anderson said. “It changed the person I was, and the person that I certainly like to think I became and continue to strive to be.”
Anderson decided to bring the musical to Cal Poly because the people here are passionate and willing to open their eyes to new perspectives and reevaluate their own views, she said.
Theatre arts junior Jack Adams, who plays the role of the father Marvin, said that the musical has the potential to inspire those in attendance to become more open-minded.
“I want people to come to the show and keep an open mind with what they are seeing because there are some delicate themes we’re dealing with, with AIDS and homosexuality,” Adams said. “But in a way it’s not even a show about that. It’s about family, love and accepting people.”
For instance, Act 1 takes place in 1979 and explores Marvin’s struggle to keep his family united, despite leaving his wife for his male lover, and her remarriage to his shrink. All the while, the son Jason is coping with what it means to be “normal.”
“Marvin is a character who in a lot of ways is just now starting to be himself,” Adams said. “He had been married for 10 years and had been stifling a part of himself for a long time. It’s him coming out and being who he is. It is someone who is doing what he thinks is right and for the benefit of his whole family.”
Then, Act 2 opens in 1981 with Jason planning for his upcoming bar mitzvah. When Jason needs guidance the most, two lesbian neighbors come to help him and support his family through rough times.
The role of Jason is a pivotal role in the play because the audience is understanding the story through his perspective, Anderson said. When casting Jason, it wasn’t just casting an 11-year-old, it was casting his whole family because the child would need to be filled in on a controversial story line.
That’s when Anderson found Westen Meyer, who she said is just as professional and mature as the other leading actors. The local sixth grader said he has been acting since the first grade. When asked why he liked the show, it wasn’t because he gets to sing profanity at the top of his lungs.
“It’s very fun,” Meyer said. “It’s got a great plot and story, and it’s just fun to watch.”
It was all part of the job for Meyer. Unfortunately, he said he doubts his friends will be allowed to cheer him on from the crowd. Instead, he said maybe his dad’s friends or his fifth and sixth grade teachers will be there.
Meyer’s fictitious mother, played by theatre arts junior Jaide Whitman, will stand loyally by him on stage, though. The relationships formed between the on-stage family and other characters are something Whitman said adds to the musical’s impact.
“I’m excited to create the family we’ve been building and have it be effective and help the message,” she said. “The connections and relationships we have on stage are really important to awareness and connecting with the audience.”
The actor-audience connection is something “Falsettos” focuses on throughout the musical-comedy.
“It’s a story with a lot of ups and downs with love, with heartbreak and it kind of fills the entire spectrum of musical theater and has a little bit of everything for everyone,” Whitman said. “We do a lot of singing to the audience and try to engage them in a conversation almost.”
Preceding tonight’s show will be a hourlong fundraiser event in Chumash Auditorium open to the public from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. A raffle will be held, and all proceeds will go to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Foundation and the San Luis Obispo County AIDS Support Network.
“Falsettos” will be held in the Alex and Fay Spanos Theatre Feb. 24, 25, 26, and March 3, 4 and 5 with a matinee performance at 2 p.m. on March 5. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $12 for students, seniors and Cal Poly faculty and staff, and are available at the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center Box Office and online.