Ever proving they’re on the cusp of what today’s musical theatre represents, TPAC’s latest offering, FUN HOME, complete with a “recommended for audiences 13+ due to adult themes”, played to near-capacity audiences this past week from October 10-15. Yes, the show deals with sexuality, infidelity, suicide and the like, but so do a handful of other shows that have played TPAC over the years. FUN HOME, controversial as it may be to some, approaches these subjects, but never in a vulgar or distasteful manner. It does so, thanks largely to the source material, with a surprising amount of humor, genuine curiosity and love.
Cartoonist Alison Bechtel first gained notoriety within the LGBT community as the creator of Dykes to Watch Out For, a comic strip that ran in gay magazines and newspapers across the country from 1983 until 2008. A much larger audience took note of the author/illustrator in 2006 when she published Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a memoir of her childhood and young adult life as the out lesbian daughter of a closeted gay father, who just so happens to run the family business, a funeral home.
In 2013, FUN HOME debuted off Broadway having been adapted for the musical theatre stage by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori. When the show debuted on Broadway in 2015, it made history by not only being the first Broadway musical to feature a lesbian protagonist, but also for making the writing team of Kron and Tesori the first female writing team to win a Tony for Best Original Score. That win also garnered Tesori the honor of taking home a Tony for each of her five major Broadway projects. Her previous successes include CAROLINE OF CHANGE, SHREK: THE MUSICAL, THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE and VIOLET.
Broadway vet Robert Petkoff, who shared the stage with Brian Cranston in ALL THE WAY, as well as Dame Judy Dench in The West End’s production of THE ROYAL FAMILY, stars as Bruce, Alison’s closeted father. Because of the double-life he leads, he comes across as tortured, unhappy and a seemingly uncaring to Alison, her young siblings and his wife. As Alison matures and discovers her own sexuality, Petkoff’s Bruce presents a beautiful balance of equal parts resentment and relief. He sees a life he should have lead in his daughter’s openness, culminating in an awkward, but ultimately loving scene the two share in an afternoon car ride.
Susan Moniz is cast as Helen, Bruce’s put-upon wife and mother to Alison and her siblings. Moniz’s Helen is often relegated to the background, as the play centers primarily on Alison’s journey and the effect of her father’s life on her own, but when given the chance, Moniz shines as the oft put-upon wife and mother of three.
Cast as Alison’s young brothers are Luke Barbato Smith as Christian and Henry Boshart as John. Being a younger brother myself, I totally related to the bratty fun these two have onstage alongside older sister Alison.
Speaking of Alison, at it’s core, FUN HOME explores three distinct phases of Alison’s life—-a young girl longing for her father’s approval and acknowledgement; a young adult out on her own for the first time and exploring the freedom to be herself; and grown woman coming to terms with her past, he father’s troubled existence and a desire to understand both—-and it does so by presenting three actresses portraying the lead during those three phases.
First there’s Kate Shindle, former Miss America, current President of Actor’s Equity and longtime activist. As adult Alison, Shindle has the distinct responsibility of acting as the show’s narrator. In doing so, she’s onstage the entire 100 minutes of the show’s duration. This narrative concept not only makes her omnicient as she see’s her younger self going through the motions of previous experiences, but also connects her to the audience as they too take on an eavesdropping voyeuristic role as Alison’s life unfolds on stage. Shindle possesses a voice that’s strong and soothing. The perfect voice to portray a character that possesses both those qualities.
Because of the demands of life on tour, the role of Small Alison is shared by Carly Gold and Jadyn Schwartz. On opening night of the Nashville leg of the tour, Gold performed the role. Gold’s Small Alison beautifully presents the wonder of childhood, the longing for attention and the early mirroring of our parents behaviors and attitudes.
As for Medium Alison, Abby Corrigan is simply brilliant. As awkward as any teenage girl ever was, Corrigan’s Alison is charming in her excitability. Regardless of your sexual orientation, Corrigan’s Alison presents a completely relatable character as she ventures out on her own to college and experiences life and love as a young adult for the first time.
On the subject of love, Corrigan’s Alison takes on my personal favorite tune from the show, I’m Changing My Major. While some more close-minded audience members might fidget uncomfortably in their theatre seats as Alison revels in the hopefulness of young love with a female co-ed—-with lyrics like “I’m changing my major to Joan with a minor in…kissing Joan”, this moment in the show should truly express the universality of first love. After all, who among us, after having met that one special person, hasn’t considered focusing all their time and attention on them?
Other musical highlights pepper the more serious tones of the show throughout. Particularly entertaining are the three young siblings as they ‘make a commercial’ for the Fun Home—what their family calls the FUNeral Home. Come to the Fun Home showcases the talented young cast members and serves to lighten the mood with a Jackson 5-esque uptempo beat and funky moves to match. The kids are also part of one of the show’s more elaborate numbers. While watching her favorite TV show, young Alison’s Dad unceremoniously turns off the set, prompting a groovy dream sequence Raincoat of Love, which features not only the kids, but the adult cast members in a groovy, disco-ball dance number reminiscent of The Partridge Family or perhaps a number from the short-lived, but fondly remembers Brady Bunch Variety Hour.
Those to fun sequences aside, Fun Home is not your typical “jazz hands” all-out musical, with it’s mostly stripped-down sets and frequently sobering subject matter, it finds a simply spectacular middle-ground mixing the sweetness of how we all want to remember our formative years and family life with the bittersweet reality of reflecting on those times as an adult. Among the more poignant, thoughtful numbers are It All Comes Back, Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue, Ring of Keys and Telephone Wire.
It All Comes Back, the show opening in which Small Alison exhibits her father’s assertive nature in an effort to garner her father’s attention while he’d rather go through his latest finds from an estate sale. The song includes the lines, “Is this silver? Is this junk or silver? With polish we can tell. I love how tarnish melts away, opening to luster”—- a beautiful metaphor for Alison’s memories.
Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue, performed by Helen, the children and Bruce, with the ever-telling line, “chaos never happens if it’s never seen” serves to expose the underlying notion that not everything you see is what there is to the seemingly perfect little family.
Ring of Keys, also performed by Small Alison explores the seemly simple notion that we feel what we feel. We are who we are, not because of influence, but by nature, as young Alison notices an inexplicable interest in a delivery woman and her ring of keys.
Telephone Wire, with it’s frantic pace and repetitive lyrics is more about the the feeling the song conveys than the lyrics as Adult Alison longs for her father to speak openly and honestly with her about not only her sexuality, but his own. This number is particularly moving because, as Alison reveals to the audience, it’s the last conversation she had with her father.
FUN HOME may not be the big budget all-out musical stage extravaganza to which some musical theatre fans are accustom, but it certainly does reflect the times and a new direction in a more thoughtful and thought-provoking night of theatre.
While FUN HOME has wrapped its run in Nashville, the current tour continues with upcoming dates in Boston, MA, Schenectady, NY, Providence, RI, Rochester, NY and Tampa, FL throughout 2017 with more dates expected to be announced in the new year. Click Here to purchase tickets or for more information. You can also follow FUN HOME on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
TPAC continues its current Broadway season with AN AMERICAN IN PARIS October 31-November 5, LES MISERABLES November 14-19, JERSEY BOYS January 9-14, THE KING AND I January 30-February 4,THE ILLUSIONISTS February 16-18, CABARET February 27-March 4, WICKED March 28-April 22, WAITRESS June 5-10 and LOVE NEVER DIES: THE PHANTOM RETURNS June 19-24. Click Here for tickets or more information. You can also follow TPAC on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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