Andrew Rannells*

newyorker.com
Andrew Rannells Stars in “Falsettos”
In a revival of the 1992 musical, the actor plays a gay man in Koch-era Manhattan, when the AIDS epidemic loomed.

The thirty-eight-year-old actor Andrew Rannells is part of a new crop of gay stars—like Chris Colfer and Tituss Burgess—who never had to bother to be closeted in the public eye. Lean and boy-faced, with lacerating comic timing, he got his break in 2011, in “The Book of Mormon,” playing the bushy-tailed missionary Elder Price. (The character was nineteen, but Rannells was thirty-two at the time.) The show’s runaway success led to TV roles on “Girls,” on which he plays Hannah Horvath’s tart gay ex-boyfriend, and the short-lived sitcom “The New Normal,” about a same-sex couple in Los Angeles trying to have a child. In between, he’s squeezed in memorable stints on Broadway, replacing Jonathan Groff in “Hamilton” and Neil Patrick Harris in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”

The world that Rannells occupies—gay marriage, gay celebrities—would have been hard to fathom for the characters in “Falsettos,” the musical by William Finn and James Lapine. Set in Koch-era Manhattan, it charts the entangled lives of New Yorkers dealing with exes, bar mitzvahs, therapists, and the spectre of AIDS. Its first Broadway revival (in previews, at the Walter Kerr), directed by Lapine and starring Rannells, Christian Borle, and Stephanie J. Block, will be a period piece, but when it was written it was breaking news. The show is actually two one-acts mashed together. The first half, “March of the Falsettos,” débuted at Playwrights Horizons in 1981 and depicts an unconventional family in 1979. Nine years later, the authors had another story to tell: how disease had decimated their community. So they wrote another act, “Falsettoland,” set in the early eighties. Together, they formed the 1992 Broadway show “Falsettos.”

Rannells is too young to have experienced the worst of the nineteen-eighties AIDS epidemic, but he’s old enough to remember it. Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, “I didn’t know exactly where I fit in,” he recalled during a rehearsal break. “And then I remember my mother suggesting one year that I watch the Tony Awards.” That happened to be the year “Falsettos” won Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical. As an adolescent, Rannells did community theatre, and some of his older cast-mates were H.I.V.-positive. “It was a daunting realization: Well, I’m gay, and, if all these gay men are getting this disease, what does that mean for me?”

In “Falsettos,” Rannells plays Whizzer, the boyfriend of Marvin (Borle), who has an ex-wife (Block) and a son, played by Anthony Rosenthal. “There was a surprisingly moving moment in rehearsal, where we had to explain to Anthony that gay people were not always accepted,” Rannells said. “He’s just turned twelve.”

For those who are curious about the Falsettos revival, some spoilery notes…


- two songs in the first act have some new lyrics: Marvin at the Psychiatrist and I’m Breaking Down
- there’s a bit of additional dance music at places, not a ton
- some new music in act two, including a bigger finish to A Day in Falsettoland and a really nice bit for Marvin to sing to Jason at the bar mitzvah
- Stephanie J. Block got the biggest applause after I’m Breaking Down. Andrew Rannells got the second biggest hand, I think it was after The Games I Play
- Regardless, Brandon Uranowitz is the MVP of the cast. He is like the perfect midpoint between Chip Zien and Ben Stiller.
- Anthony Rosenthal was great as Jason. His mic fell off during the first number, but he handled it well and it didn’t unnerve him. He gives a great performance and doesn’t ever do annoying kid actor stuff. Totally buy that he’s 10 in the first act and 12 in the second.
- Lyric changes make it clear that Cordelia isn’t Jewish, catering is no longer referred to as kosher :) She gets new lyrics to her part of “Something Bad is Happening” that take away her comic bit and instead of her being a self-centered ditz, she gets to be concerned and comforting too.
- Borle is very good, and will only get better
- Traci Thoms has the farthest to go to find her character… She’s not doing anything particularly wrong, but she’s not doing anything particularly right yet. I hope she will get there. Right now, there’s very little that feels specific about Dr. Charlotte.

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The cast of Hamilton photographed by Josh Lehrer using a ‘44 Speed Graphic with a retro-fitted Petzval Lens from 1840 (the ones released so far)

Never gon’ be president now! Never thought I’d see the day where I was drawing pictures of the First Secretary of the US Treasury and King George III, but the Hamilton soundtrack has forced my hand. I have the honour to be your Obedient Servant, M dot Barr’.