WHAT COULD BE more '80s than this scenario? Yuppie Marvin moves in with his male lover Whizzer, leaving behind his bright, neurotic son Jason and devoted wife Trina, who, for her part, becomes involved with Marvin's psychiatrist, Mendel. These familiar urban archetypes populate William Finn's charming, ironic poperetta "March of the Falsettos," receiving a lively production at Studio Theater.
Throughout the entire emotional mess, Marvin plants his feet and maintains he wants "a tight-knit family," selfishly expecting his loved ones' lives to revolve around him. But Marvin doesn't want anything to do with the compromise, responsibility and plain boredom involved in maintaining relationships.
The lyrics in Finn's 20 zippy songs are clever and glib, and with them he manages to suggest the complex relationships between his characters. But his Sondheim-derivative tunes are fairly tuneless, made up of nervous, stuttering rhythms and repeated phrases. None of the melodies is likely to follow you out of the theater, but the score is brightly rendered by Studio's trio of piano, synthesizer and drums, and has the catchy insistence of advertising jingles.
The five actors aren't particularly strong singers -- a handicap in a stage piece in which every word is sung -- but succeed nevertheless in fleshing out their roles. As the selfish Marvin, rangy J. Fred Shiffman provides more than the lightly comic role calls for, his expressive face twisting into the anger and confusion Marvin feels when faced with the fact that he can't "have it all." As Marvin's boyish lover, Paul Cunningham is attractive and facile, an effortlessly charming, but lost, perpetual Peter Pan. Young Lenny Sansanowicz is a find as 14-year-old Jason.
Finn's concepts are not exactly original -- he yanks out the old routine of the chessboard as a metaphor for life several times, for example. But he knows this territory, and the bitter/tender interplay between Marvin and Whizzer sounds particularly true.
Russell Metheny's set is so post-modern perfect -- the columns, the recessed lighting, the tasteful-but-fun shades of pink, gray and aqua -- it could easily be converted to a trendy SoHo restaurant when the show closes.
Director Thomas E. Allen's witty concept calls for the characters to arrrange and rearrange the Uzzolo-type modular furniture, which turns out to be a particularly apt image for their recombinant relationships. In one particularly nice bit, Marvin sits in a wheeled office chair sent careening back and forth between Whizzer and Trina.
With this quirky material and Allen's unflinching direction, Studio again proves it's one of the area's best at confronting today's sexual realities head-on -- even in a musical comedy.
MARCH OF THE FALSETTOS -- At Studio Theater through June 16.