|The Broadway production of "Fun Home" staged in-the-round at The Circle in the Square Theatre (c)Joan Marcus|
Growing Up in this Home Was Anything but Fun
By Lauren Yarger
Before we launch into the new season of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows just around the corner, let’s take a look at last year’s Tony award winner, Fun Home.
Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel of the same name, the show upset An American in Paris last season at the Tony’s for Best Musical and also took home awards for best score (Jeanine Tesori) and lyrics (Lisa Kron, who also write the book) -- the first female writing team to win in this category. Tesori wrote the musicals Shrek, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Violet among others.
Director Sam Gold and lead Michael Cerveris also won Tonys, and Fun Home suddenly was the little musical that could. It has been selling out at Circle in the Square Theatre where people try to win limited numbers of lottery tickets or get in Standing Room Only lines daily.
Cerveris plays Bruce Bechdel, Alison’s father, a high school teacher who also runs a funeral home in his historic mansion, lovingly called the Fun Home by his children. But everything in the Fun Home isn’t fun, we discover, as Alison, played by Beth Malone as an adult, reflects on her relationship with her dad. We see her memories come to life.
Her mother, Helen (Judy Kuhn) keeps all of the kids, Young Alison (Sydney Lucas), Christian (Oscar Williams) and John (an absolutely amazing Zell Steele Morrow) in perfect order, as demanded by Bruce who is hiding his own imperfections, like depression and the fact that he likes having sex with men like handyman Roy (Joel Perez) and even underage boys he teaches.
Alison, struggling with her sexuality, even at a very young age, tries everything to please her emotionally distant father including wearing frilly dresses and trying not to feel proud of the drawings her father puts down. She even tries to brush aside his cruelty in forcing her to look at a dead body. Later, we see college-age Alison (Emily Skeggs) when she has her first lesbian experience with Joan (Roberta Colindrez), who also opens her eyes to the fact that Bruce might be gay.
The walls of Fun Home start to collapse, however, when Bruce’s secrets are discovered and Helen no longer can be the foundation of their false, perfect-looking life. Alison struggles with never really having been able to talk with her dad before his untimely death.
The performances are excellent, across the board, with expert direction by Gold as the story is told in the round (audience sits on all sides of the action which takes place on the floor in the middle of the oval in the perfect intimate setting at Circle in the Square). Cerveris is brilliant – one of the finest actors we have on Broadway – in his portrayal of the conflicted, controlling, obsessive man whose selfish desires and inability to relate to his family make him downright creepy. Master writing from Kron keeps him likable, as does the real Bechdel’s apparent forgiveness of and love for him, which come through (the musical was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize).
Kuhn is a study in amazing characterization. She nails a wide range of emotions from denial to shock to a mother protecting her daughter and you can help but feel her heart break, especially when Bruce tries to blame her for their problems.
“You’re the one with the problem,” Bruce says as Cerveris adds venom to the bite.
In “Days and Days” she expresses how you have felt if you have ever wondered “how did I get to this place in my life?”
"That's how it happens:
Days made of bargains I made because I thought as a wife I was meant to,
And now my life is shattered and made bare.
Days and days and days and days."
Gripping stuff. Kuhn and all of the Alisons were nominated for Tonys as well.
Tesori’s score is a marvel with haunting melodies and fun tunes that, combined with Kron’s lyrics, tell the story as much as narrator Alison does. Several songs will develop as earworms as you will be hearing them for weeks, even months after leaving the theater. Two of my favorites:
- “Ring of Keys” where young Alison is struck by a masculine delivery woman and is startled, then scared, then thrilled by the possibility that she understands. This is one of them most perfect songs I have ever heard on a Broadway stage for conveying the emotions of the character, not only in the lyrics, but in the mood and changing of the music as well. Lucas is amazing in bringing it to life with some of the finest acting skills I have ever seen.
“Your swagger and your bearing
and the just right clothes you're wearing
Your short hair and your dungarees
And your lace up boots.
And your keys oh
Your ring of keys.
I know you”
- “Telephone Wire” where college-aged Alison tries to convince herself to talk with her father as they take a drive in the car.
Talk to him!
At the light, at the light, at the light, at the light,
At the light, at the light, at the light, at the light.”
We all have had this type of inner conversation when we are trying to talk ourselves into doing something we don’t want to do -- or are afraid of doing -- and we feel her pain when Bruce is oblivious to his daughter’s desperate need to communicate.
The small acoustic orchestra is set at one end of the oval and is directed by Chris Fenwick.
The standing ovation at the end of this musical is well deserved (though I still think An American In Paris should have won Best Musical). Don’t miss this one – just plan on getting your tickets well in advance.
Fun Home plays at Circle in the Sqaure, 235 W. 50th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets $75-$150: http://funhomebroadway.com/; 800-432-7250.
- Orchestrations by John Clancy, Choreography by Danny Mefford, Set and Costume Design by David Zinn, Costume Design by Esosa, Lighting Design by Ben Stanton; Sound Design by Kai Haradafor.
- Bechdel is known for deveoping Bechdel Test, which tests works of fiction, especially films and stage works, to see whether they contain two named women characters talk to each other about something other than a man. Not many shows pass the test.
Christians might want to know:
-- Obviously the show deals with Alison's sexual orientation, but it more is about her relationship with her father and how she comes to terms with that.
-- Homosexual activity
-- Explicit lyrics
-- God's name taken in vain