The one-act musical centers on Marvin, who has a wife and two children. He recalls the past relationships he shared with, among others, his high school sweetheart and Miss Goldberg, his English teacher who let him play Christopher Columbus in the school play, and then reveals he prefers to be with men. Torn between his natural inclination and his desire not to upset his family life as he knows it, Marvin ultimately makes the decision he feels is best for him.
In Trousers, directed by Finn, was mounted twice in 1979 at Off-Broadway's Playwrights Horizons, opening on February 21 for 24 performances and again on December 8 for 8. The cast -- Chip Zien, Alison Fraser, Joanna Green, and Mary Testa -- was the same for both productions.
The play was produced Off-Broadway at the Second Stage Theatre in March 1981, with Jay O. Sanders as Marvin, Kate Dezina (Wife), Alaina Reed (His Teacher, Miss Goldberg) and Karen Jablons (His High School Sweetheart). Direction was by Judith Swift with choreography by Marta Renzi and Sharon Kinney.
In 1985, a significantly rewritten version, with additional songs, a more cohesive storyline, and better defined characters (with Marvin's wife christened Trina), opened on March 26 at the Off-Broadway Promenade Theatre, where it ran for 16 performances. Directed by Matt Casella, it starred Stephen Bogardus, Catherine Cox, Sherry Hursey, and Kathy Garrick. In an author's note (dated April 1986) to this version, Finn wrote: "...a lot of the material was about my learning to write the kind of show songs I want to write. So the show is about Marvin's education, and mine." In his review of this production, Frank Rich wrote: "As lovingly orchestrated by Mr. Finn's long-time collaborator Michael Starobin, the melodies linger well after the final curtain; so do running lyrical conceits built around phrases like breaking down and giddy seizures. Isn't it typical of this luckless season that the musical with the best score would be more enjoyably heard on a cast album than seen on stage?"
Finn eventually collaborated with James Lapine on two additional one-acters, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland, which further explored the lives of Marvin and his family and friends. These two later were combined for a two-act Broadway production entitled Falsettos.
Cast, Original, 1979
- Marvin - Chip Zien
- His Wife - Alison Fraser
- His Sweetheart - Joanna Green
- Miss Goldberg - Mary Testa
The original cast album is available on CD on the Original Cast Records label. In reviewing the Original Cast recording, William Ruhlmann wrote: "Since Finn turned out to be the most impressive songwriting talent to emerge in the musical theater in the 1980s, this record, a cast recording of the 1979 production, is of more than passing interest, even if, in comparison to its successors, it is slight. Still, the music is lively and melodic, the lyrics often provocative and surprising, and the performances, notably that of Chip Zien, who appeared in the later shows in a different role, arresting.
- "Theater: 'In Trousers'" The New York Times, March 4, 1981
- Finn, William. "Preface" In Trousers, Samuel French, Inc., 1986, ISBN 0573681538, p. 7
- Rich, Frank. "Theater: 'Trousers' AMusical" The New York Times, March 27, 1985
- Ruhlmann, William. " In Trousers Original Cast Recording" allmusic.com, accessed May 22, 2015
- First 1979 production at Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Second 1979 production at Internet Off-Broadway Database
- 1981 Production at Internet Off-Broadway Database
- 1985 production at Internet Off-Broadway Database