by Nancy Salz, May 6, 2015
Book and Lyrics by Lisa Kron
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel
Direction by Sam Gold
Choreography by Danny Mefford
Music Direction by Chris Fenwick
Scenic and Costume Direction by David Zinn
Featuring Michael Cerveris, Judy Kuhn, Beth Malone, Sydney Lucas, Emily Skeggs and Roberta Colindrez
It’s not what you would expect of a Broadway musical. No dancing-singing chorus. No chorus, actually, and barely any real dancing. But singing? Oh yes. Wonderful singing that projects Alison Bechdel’s story with moving honesty, deep-felt emotion and palpable joy. We alternate among three stages of Alison’s life, her pre-teen years, her college years and her adulthood looking back on her childhood and family. She says early on:
“Caption: My dad and I both grew up in a small Pennsylvania town and he was gay and I was gay and he killed himself and I became a lesbian cartoonist.”
The family — a mother, two sons and one daughter — revolves around the father’s overbearing, manipulative wants. In fact, every major character in Fun Home, the musical based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel that premiered at The Public Theatre in 2013, not only wants but yearns powerfully for the father’s love, which they never get. We feel their longing for 100, non-stop commanding minutes. Fun Home captures you when you’re watching it and for days after.
Alison, a pre-teen (Sydney Lucas) when we meet her, wants her father to listen to her, to do what she says, to play airplane so she can fly. She first begs then orders her father to pay attention to her. As a teenager (Emily Skeggs) tries to come to grips with her homosexuality. She wonders if she’s really a lesbian, what that feels like; she wants her parents’ acceptance. As an adult (Beth Malone) she wants to make sense of it all.
The mother and wife in the Bechdel family (Judy Kuhn) wants her husband to live in her world, at least part of the time, and give her love, attention — or at least be a bit normal.
The object of all this wanting is Bruce (Michael Cerveris), the husband and father, who wants a perfect historic home, perfect cadavers in his funeral parlor, and at least one boy student in his English class to have sex with him. Most of all he wants to not be who he is or he wants make peace with it. He is so tightly wound inside, no one can reach him — not even himself.
A home that’s fun — maybe not. But human and tragic and very, very moving.
Here is a musical with music that always gets to the heart of the matter and takes it a step further. When college age Alison first has sex it is with a classmate named Joan. She gets out of bed the next morning and sings an upbeat song, “I’m Changing My Major to Joan.” So unexpected. So perfect. It is a song that expresses her complete happiness and sets us smiling with tears in our eyes.
All three Alisons give splendid performances. The young Sydney Lucas is real, unspoiled with a voice that reflects her participation in the Met Opera workshops. Emily Skeggs is very compelling and likeable. Beth Malone is a strong older Alison, sadder, wiser, quieter and less free than her younger self.
Michael Cerveris has the difficult role of portraying a character who is holding back. Not really revealing himself except in small gestures, like constantly trying to control Alison by placing a barrette in her hair to keep it from being free. He is excellent.
Judy Kuhn strongly portrays the long-suffering Helen, knowing all of her husband’s secrets. She simultaneously protects her children and tries to keep a smidgen of her own identity.
The show, a theatre-in-the-round staging at Circle in the Square, mainly takes place in the Bechdel Victorian living room, with scenery rising out of the floor and returning underneath as needed. Even though the scenes change with the different stage props, we basically stay in the same place and at the same level of involvement. Even the small orchestra is in the room, with a wall papered wall and sconces behind them.
Fun Home has a book and lyrics by Lisa Kron. Jeanine Tesori composed the music. The choreography, by Danny Mefford, is designed for the children in the family and is free and childlike. David Zinn designed the scenery and costumes. Ben Stanton designed the tricky lighting for a theatre-in-the-round production.
Sam Gold directed with nuance and humanity.
Fun Home isn’t just a wonderful show, it’s a human experience to cherish.