"Holding to the the Ground" - My Heart Is Breaking
In the early 1990s, this country was in a suffocating fear of the AIDS epidemic, with treatments only beginning to show possibilities of success and certainly no signs of eradicating this plague on the horizon. Here we are twenty-plus years later and we still haven't found a cure, but have found ways to help people live much longer with the dread disease. It was composer/lyricist William Finn who first successfully captured the fear of the unknown surrounding AIDS and brought it to the musical stage. Finn's 1981 musical March of the Falsettos, a highly neurotic tale about a Jewish gay man named Marvin who tries to juggle his wife, his son, his lover, and his psychiatrist as he explores his own sexuality, set the stage for continuing the tale into the AIDS crisis with the 1990 musical Falsettoland. Picking up where March of the Falsettos left off, this sequel explored the devastation the family experienced when they found out Marvin's lover Whizzer is diagnosed with a mysterious illness that we can only assume is the dreaded AIDS. Though it is never specifically identified as such, all of the indications are there.
March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland were combined a year later to be a complete musical titled Falsettos, running on Broadway for 487 performances in 1992. Staged starkly, but cleverly, by James Lapine, the two one-acts put together made for a satisfying and emotionally gripping musical. Falsettos picked up TONY Awards for "Best Score" and "Best Book" of a musical.
Among the heart-wrenching songs that populate the show, one has always stood out for me. "Holding to the Ground," sung by Marvin's wife (then ex-wife) Trina, sums up the darkness and uncertainty that so many were experiencing when AIDS cast its shadow over our landscape. Trina is the character who probably goes through the most turmoil in Falsettos, trying to negotiate the fact that her husband has left her for another man and she tries to be a rock for her son Jason who is vacillating over his impending Bar Mitzvah and who also seems to be overwhelmed with his own emotional problems. When Whizzer's illness is added to the mix, Trina (who actually likes her ex-husband's lover) feels that this might be the breaking point for her family. Finn's music and lyrics seem to poignantly capture this woman, as she summons her final store of courage, and then gives us a glimpse into all of the hurt and confusion she is carrying in her heart. No other lyric in the show captures what this woman has been through quite like "keeping up my head as my heart falls out of sight," especially as she unconvincingly follows it with "everything will be alright." Finn captures neurosis, uncertainty, and the nebulous world of fear with beauty and truth.