Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Review of "Fun Home"

Fun Home is a musical about a dysfunctional family with a unique twist.  The father, we learn, is gay, and the daughter, in her words, grows up to become a lesbian cartoonist.  Maybe not the usual subject matter for a Broadway musical, but the show is smart, dynamic and one of the best new musicals of the current season.

The show, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, is primarily a coming of age story for the daughter.  She is played by three very talented actresses, at pivotal times in her life—as a young tween, a college student, and as a 43 year old woman.  We are introduced to the Bechdel family, a quirky group of characters.  Dad (Michael Cerveris), opinionated and forceful, is a funeral home director, home restorer, college teacher and a closeted gay man.  Mom (Judy Kuhn), quiet, thoughtful and repressed, is involved in community theater, taking care of the family and living a lie.  Their three children, two boys, Christian (Oscar Williams) and John (Zell Steele Morrow), and a girl. Alison (Sydney Lucas, Emily Skeggs and Beth Malone), grow up within this idiosyncratic world.  The focus, though, is on Alision as she maneuvers through the landmines of her household and handles her sexual awakening.

The cast of Fun Home is superb.  Michael Cerveris convincingly gives us a portrayal of a man troubled and conflicted.  He is a living and breathing conundrum where no answers are easy.  Judy Kuhn, more in the background, is unwavering in her support and protective of her brood.  The three actresses that combine to tell the tale of Alison are outstanding.  Sydney Lucas as the Young Alison delivers a stunning performance well beyond her years.  Emily Skeggs as the Middle Alison is the most complex of the trio.  From an initial ambivalence and awkwardness of the character she matures to become a self-assured individual.  Beth Malone as the older Alison is more a watcher and her poised observations brings the character full circle.

The book by Lisa Kron, an award-winning playwright, is tightly structured with well-defined characters mined from the graphic novel.  The dialogue is expressive and never compromising. 

The music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Lisa Kron is the best new score on Broadway.  While Kron is new in the lyrics department, Tesori has done masterful work over the years with contributions to such divergent projects as Violet; Caroline, or Change; Thoroughly Modern Millie; and Shrek – the Musical.  Fun Home might be her best work.  The songs form a cohesive whole and are melodic as they speak to the family’s life, the angst of the daughter and even the fun that can permeate the household.

Director Sam Gold has put together a polished production that is passionate, energized and sensitively mines the emotional depths of the musical.  He skillfully guides the actors around the confines of Circle in the Square, deftly bringing out the subtleties and complexities of the production. 

The scenic design by David Zinn, with sets moved around the staging area and appearing and disappearing from the floor, adds to the visual activity and briskness of the production.

Fun Home, a powerful, poignant musical not to be missed.

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