Coming to terms with one’s past can be a challenge for most people – but for lesbian graphic novelist Alison Bechdel, it’s been a particularly difficult journey. Her provocative tale has now been translated to the stage in the extremely ambitious, extremely moving musical “Fun Home,” now at Circle in the Square. While this show is hardly standard Broadway fare, this production, directed with great acuity by Sam Gold, is not just better than it was over a year ago at the Public Theater; it deserves to be the clear favorite for this year’s Tony Award for Best Musical.
This primarily sung-through piece, featuring a varied and brilliant score by Tony Award nominee Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by award-winning playwright Lisa Kron, takes the unusual tactic of presenting the story through the eyes of Alison at three different stages of her life – sometimes simultaneously. If you think that sounds confusing, trust me, it’s not.
Our almost omnipresent narrator is the 40something Alison (an extremely fine Beth Malone), who is desperately struggling to caption her cartoons while searching for answers about the two-decades old suicide of her closeted gay father Bruce (the stunning Michael Cerveris). But we also spend significant time with the college-aged Allison (the excellent Emily Skeggs), and “small” Allison (the pitch-perfect Sydney Lucas) a preternaturally wise child who rebels against conventional notions of femininity.
While focusing on Alison, Kron’s script also deftly explores the tensions in the marriage of Bruce and Helen (the supremely gifted Judy Kuhn), a teacher and amateur actress, who sits by almost helplessly as her carefully constructed world is almost destroyed by one of Bruce’s ill-considered dalliances. (The work’s title is ironic, since they call the funeral home which Bruce runs the “fun home” but the family’s Pennsylvania abode is no barrel of laughs.)
Cerveris is masterful at making us see all facets of Bruce, an often-distant, but sometimes loving man who teaches English, restores homes, and, yes, fools around with local men and boys (all played by the hunky Joel Perez) knowing it’s wrong on some level, yet powerless to stop it. His cri de coeur “Edges of the World” (no song titles are actually listed in the program) is shattering.
So is Kuhn’s late-in-show lament about her life, “Days and Days,” which literally brought me to tears, as did the speech when Helen finally confesses to the college-aged Allison the truth about her marriage. But not all the songs are downbeat, notably the college-aged Alison’s exuberant “Changing My Major” – sung after her first night of passion with fellow lesbian Joan (a sublime Roberta Colindrez) -- and young Alison’s magnificent “Ring of Keys,” in which she first articulates her attraction to women after seeing a “butch” delivery woman in a local diner.
Gold (who also directed the Public Theater production) conquers the challenge of helming this show in the round, aided by the brilliant set design of David Zinn, who uses trap doors to magnificent effect. (Ben Stanton’s excellent lighting is another fine contribution.)
Admittedly, this show is only rarely “fun” and, hopefully, nothing like your home, but it would be a crime not to visit it.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Michael Cerveris, Judy Kuhn, Beth Malone, Sydney Lucas, Emily Skeggs, Joel Perez, Roberta Colindrez, Zell Morrow, Oscar Williams
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 3/27/2015
Circle in the Square
235 West 50th Street
New York, NY 10019