Vadim Feichtner’s road to the new production of Falsettos, of which he is musical director, began in 1999. He was in the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU. While there, he met William Finn, the composer, lyricist, and co-writer of the book of Falsettos. During a technical rehearsal this week of the LCT revival at the Walter Kerr Theater, Feichtner and I sat in the first balcony and he remembered: “Bill had given a talk to one of my NYU classes. I wasn’t there that day. He came back several times to sit in on the class, and that’s when I met him.”
A couple of years later, Feichtner was hired as an intern on a workshop of The Royal Family, Finn’s long-aborning musical version of the 1927 Kaufman and Ferber play. “I thought I’d just be getting coffee for people,” Feichtner said. “But Elaine Stritch was in it, and she took the musical director for herself. So they needed someone to work with the other performers. I was asked, and the experience was invaluable.”
Cut to 2002, when Feichtner, who grew up in Cleveland, was the music director of a production of Falsettos at the Barrington Stage Company in western Massachusetts. “I invited Bill to see it,” Feichtner said. “He liked the area so much that he got a place there.” It was at Barrington Stage that, in 2004, Finn’s show The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was produced. (Rachel Sheinkin wrote the book.) “An improv musical about a spelling bee?” Feichtner, who was the musical director, said. “It sounded awful. I was so wrong.” In January of 2005, the show opened off-Broadway, became a hit, and moved immediately to Broadway. “Most musicals take 3 or 4 or 10 years to accomplish what Spelling Bee did in one,” Feichtner said.
Feichtner, who was the musical director of Elegies, the Finn song cycle produced at LCT in 2003, describes himself as “a new-works person,” but he is happy to return to Falsettos. “It’s part of the musical-theater canon now, and it’s easy to forget how far-sighted its story was. It pre-dated ‘Modern Family’ by decades.” Feichtner said that Falsettos can be tricky for performers. “It’s a great actor’s challenge, and we’re fortunate to have great actors in the new production.” He continued: “Bill’s songs are naturally emotional, and I’ve seen and heard actors serve them poorly by going for too much obvious emotion in their interpretations.”
The current revival of Falsettos will use the original instrumental line-up. “There will be four musicians,” Feichtner said. “A piano, a synthesizer, a reed player, and a percussionist.” Other aspects of the production will be different. “I’m pretending it’s a new work,” Feichtner said. “You have to do it with fresh eyes. I don’t want to get attached to the way the show’s been done before.” He added: “With new performers and new designs, you have new stimuli. You have a duty to make Falsettos something unexpected.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.