The National Tour Company of Fun Home. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Last year, Waitress: The Musical made a splash on Broadway with its excellent score and script and the unusual-for-Broadway combination of an all-female creative and production team. Another show that picked up buzz for an all-female writing team was the excellent Fun Home, which picked up twelve Tony Award nominations, five Tony Award wins, and was nominated for the Pultizer Prize in Drama. It’s easy to see why in this stellar show.
Fun Home is clever, fresh, and fast-paced. It’s also frequently funny, often moving, and brimming with flavors of humor ranging from sardonic and sarcastic to acerbic and punny. Its both engaging and moving in its own right and a prod to go and read its source material, lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir of the same name. Many points of narration and punchlines are linked to Bechdel’s cartoon format, which gives the story an interesting feel and a launching pad for various narrative comments. These and other touches give the musical a very unique and interesting feel.
Among its Tony Award wins, Fun Home picked up the hallowed trifecta of Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Musical. It shows: the musical runs with impeccable pacing for 100 minutes without intermission. Reprises and echoes aside, no song feels like another and the look and feel of the different numbers is impressively and interestingly varied.
One of the framing devices of the show is the snapshot of Bechdel at three different stages of her life: young, college-age, and older memoir-writer. Another is the use of parallel arcs of Bechdel discovering her sexuality and coming out as a lesbian, contrasted with her father staying in the closet. Each of the Alisons has a distinctive sound and character to their material; composer Jeanine Tesori and bookwriter-lyricist Lisa Kron deserve props especially for giving material with mature (but not explicit) themes to younger characters. The delivery by the younger cast doesn’t disappoint – Alessandra Baldacchino shines as Small Alison, especially in the innocuously named but key “Ring of Keys.” There are also unexpected gems like the morbidly funny children’s trio “Welcome to the Fun Home,” which simply has to be seen and heard to understand.
Caption: My dad and I both grew up in the same small Pennsylvania town.
And he was gay.
And I was gay.
And he killed himself.
And I … became a lesbian cartoonist.
The narrator of this show, referred to simply as Alison in the program, is played by Kate Shindle, who won the 1998 Miss America pageant and has gone on to a distinguished acting career – and happens to be the current President of Actor’s Equity. Shindle walks the walk, talks the talk, and sings the songs with an emotional heft and timing that buoys the evening, especially in songs like “Maps” and the crushing “This is what I have of you…”
Much of the current of joy that balances the darker parts of the show comes from Abby Corrigan as Medium Alison, who anchors the coming-out narrative with the exuberant-yet-touching “Changing My Major,” which had the audience convulsing with waves of laughter on opening night. It’s always a treat when the three actresses come together vocally.
Much of the parallel narrative rests on Robert Petkoff’s strong performance as the conflicted, closeted Bruce. Petkoff captures much of the overboiling inner conflict, making the character sympathetic even in darker and angrier moments. As his onstage wife Helen (a reluctant beard, if you will), Susan Moniz has less material but makes much of it.
More theatre should be like Fun Home. Watch for the stripes.
Fun Home plays through Dec. 18 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN.
Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017.