Regional Reviews: Boston
Also see Josh's review of A Guide for the Homesick
Fun Home won five Tony Awards and made history as the first Broadway show written exclusively by women to take home the top prize, as well as for featuring a lesbian protagonist. Based on Bechdel's best-selling graphic memoir of the same name, the musical draws a parallel between her coming-of-age and coming out as a college freshman with her closeted gay father's dark story and secret life, which eventually ended in his suicide only months after Alison's revelation. Book writer/lyricist Lisa Kron and composer Jeanine Tesori (both Tony Award winners) employ three actors to play Alison at different stages of her life and incorporate them into a free-flow of scenes blending from the far past, to the past, to the present, without a strict timeline. It may sound confusing, but this is one dramatic piece that benefits from being non-linear, and it is solidly held together by the constant presence of grown-up Alison (Kate Shindle) observing it all to make sense of her life.
Shindle's role as narrator frames the memory play from beginning to end, introducing us to her parents and brothers and the family dynamic at work in their Pennsylvania house, aka the Bechdel Funeral Home. Alison is in her studio, drawing her memories of herself and her father, and trying to comprehend all that took place. She is absorbed into the background when Small Alison (Carly Gold) or Medium Alison (Abby Corrigan) move into focus to share their parts of the story. Although the three actors are playing the same character, each imbues Alison with her individual interpretation that is influenced by their diverse ages (43, 19, 9), and each is splendid in her own right.
Gold is making her professional debut which may be why she comes across as a natural kid, not someone who is acting. Whether playing airplane with her father, singing and dancing up a storm with her energetic onstage brothers (Luké Barbato Smith, Henry Boshart), or imparting the wonder of recognizing herself in an "old-school butch" delivery woman ("Ring of Keys"), Gold is both impressive and authentic. Medium Alison travels a broader story arc as she develops from an asexual naif into a full-fledged lesbian and activist, finds her vocation, and has her eyes opened to many of the family secrets. Corrigan shows a range of feeling and some significant comic chops, as well as a beautiful and strong voice ("Changing My Major").
Alternating between the foreground and background, Shindle is low-key, yet a strong, commanding presence, lending her voice to ensemble numbers and shining when Alison sings words of encouragement to herself when she takes a solo drive with Dad ("Telephone Wire"). In contrast to the other two portrayals of the character, Shindle's Alison displays a wry sense of humor, inquisitiveness, and maturity, no matter what she discovers. She convinces us that she wants to unveil the truth, for better and worse.
In an ensemble with no weak vocal links, Robert Petkoff (Bruce Bechdel) stands out for tone and emotion. With Kron's incredible lyrics to provide exposition, he powerfully conveys his character's internal life and anguish by the sound of his voice. Alison is the protagonist of her own story, but Bruce is the tortured soul. His wife Helen (Susan Moniz) suffers alongside him in her own quiet way, but tells us all we need to know about her in her beautifully sung, aching confession ("Days and Days") to Medium Alison. Rounding out the cast are Victoria Janicki (hip and sassy as Joan, Medium Alison's girlfriend) and Robert Hager, capably shifting between roles as Bruce's boy toys.
The onstage orchestra, under the direction of Micah Young, gives Tesori's interesting score its due. Choreography by Danny Mefford is naturalistic and well-executed, with the most fun happening in "Come to the Fun Home," when the three children perform their homemade commercial for the family business, and the biggest splash occurring in the fantasy number, "Raincoat of Love." On board from the Broadway production are Tony nominees David Zinn (scenic/costume design) and Ben Stanton (lighting design), and sound designer Kai Harada. Tony Award-winning director Sam Gold also helms the tour and successfully transitions the staging from the intimate Circle in the Square to the larger, proscenium stage venue.
Fun Home premiered Off-Broadway at The Public Theater in September 2013 and closed in January 2014, after numerous extensions. It opened in April 2015 at Broadway's Circle in the Square Theatre and closed in September 2016 after 26 previews and 582 regular performances. The national tour kicked off a little over a year ago, bringing this moving musical about one woman's personal journey to all corners of the country. It's a great American story that offers an opportunity for recognizing our own families and searching for healing.
Fun Home, performances through October 29, 2017, at The Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston, MA, as part of the 2017-2018 Lexus Broadway in Boston season; Tickets available at Ticketmaster 800-982-2787, www.BroadwayInBoston.com, or at the Boston Opera House Box Office. For more information on the tour, visit funhomebroadway.com.
Music by Jeanine Tesori, Book & Lyrics by Lisa Kron, Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, Directed by Sam Gold, Choreography by Danny Mefford; Music Supervision, Chris Fenwick; Scenic and Costume Design, David Zinn; Lighting Design, Ben Stanton; Sound Design, Kai Harada; Orchestrations, John Clancy; Music Director, Micah Young; Music Coordinator, Antoine Silverman; Hair and Wig Design, Rick Carrot; Production Stage Manager, Shawn Pennington
Cast (in order of appearance): Kate Shindle, Carly Gold, Jadyn Schwartz (at certain performances), Robert Petkoff, Abby Corrigan, Susan Moniz, Luké Barbato Smith, Henry Boshart, Victoria Janicki, Robert Hager