Fun Home | The Fabulous Fox Theatre

Alison admitted Fun Home is a “story that I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to tell,” but after seeing this show, you’ll surely share the same thought as thousands of others: thank goodness she did.

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I don’t know about all of you, but when I see “based on a true story” tacked onto any type of media, my viewing experience is changed before the show, movie, or play in question even begins. It suddenly becomes much more emotional (which is saying a lot because live theatre is such a moving experience as it is). And Fun Home is no exception.

When I listened to the Fun Home soundtrack the first time, I didn’t know that it was based on a true story or adapted from Alison Bechdel’s best-selling graphic memoir of the same name. (At that point, I also didn’t fully realize how funny it is, but I’ll get to that later.) Bechdel, a lesbian cartoonist, had two primary motivations for setting her coming of age story to paper: She wished to honor her late, closeted gay father who tragically killed himself, and in her words, she decided to share it because it is “such a vivid, demonstrative example of the impact of homophobia in real life, on an actual family.”

I’ve seen Fun Home described as “not just a new musical, a new kind of musical,” and that’s most definitely one of many characteristics that make this a must-watch show. In this production, a middle-aged Alison (Kate Shindle) is reflecting on her past, as she attempts to draw it, sifting through her memories from the fresh perspective of grown-up eyes. Her memories are played out before her by small Alison (the absolutely phenomenal Alessandra Baldacchino) and middle, college student Alison (Abby Corrigan), who is beginning to embrace her sexuality.

Watching older Alison observe scenes featuring her younger selves is almost haunting, and the character has an incredibly commanding stage presence—especially for a someone who does more listening than talking. At times, I’d forget she was watching in the background (because her memories unfolding in the forefront are so engrossing) until her voice would occasionally join the others onstage whether in song or commentary. But it is in those moments that the magnitude of emotion onstage grows exponentially. (There are a couple instances in which all three Alisons are onstage at once, and it’s those powerful scenes that have stayed with me most vividly).

Because older Alison is drawing her story, the attention to detail in the dialogue, lyrics, and the set design is astounding. In her words, “I want to know what’s true, dig deep into who and what and why and when, until now gives way to then.” (Listen to the opening of “Clueless in New York” to hear just what I mean.) There are so many emotions in this life that are difficult to put into words, but Jeanine Tesori (music) and Lisa Kron (book and lyrics) do so exquisitely. (“Days and Days” and “Ring of Keys” are great examples of this, as is “Telephone Wire,” which details the last encounter Alison has with her dad before he dies.)

Robert Petkoff and Susan Moniz are completely compelling as Alison’s parents Bruce and Helen. As Alison has explained, Bruce grew up in the 1950s, “a time and place where it was impossible for him to be open about his sexuality. He got married and had kids because that’s what people did… But he lived with tremendous pressure of shame and secrecy which took a huge toll not just on him, but on my whole family.” Watching him spiral to the point of suicide (“Edges of the World”) will leave you just as speechless as Alison often is herself.

So I know what you’re thinking—how in the world could this show, as I mentioned earlier, be even the slightest bit humorous considering the tragedy it builds up to?! But you’ll just have to trust me on this, Alison has a great, dry sense of humor that provides much needed comic relief against the heaviness of the events unfolding before the audience. However, this doesn’t fully come through on the soundtrack, which is just an added incentive to see it live!

Alison admitted Fun Home is a “story that I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to tell,” but after seeing this show, you’ll surely share the same thought as thousands of others: thank goodness she did. | Megan Washausen

Photo: Joan Marcus

Fun Home runs at The Fabulous Fox through November 27. For ticket information, click here.  

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