Theater Review: Fun Home

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An honest, touching and bittersweetly funny Tony Award-winning musical based on a true story.

TPAC’s Broadway Series presents:
Fun Home (Oct. 10 – 15; Ages 13+)
Andrew Jackson Hall
505 Deaderick St., Nashville
615-782-4040 • tpac.org
Remaining showtimes: Fri 8 p.m., Sat 2 & 8 p.m., Sun 1 & 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $27 – $72

Winner of the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical, Fun Home tells the coming-of-age story of writer/artist Alison Bechdel while exploring the complexities of adulthood. The 100-minute, one-act musical, the first on Broadway featuring a lesbian protagonist, is based on Bechdel’s graphic memoir. 

The musical — with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori — opens with a 43-year-old Alison (Kate Shindle), a cartoonist, looking back on her childhood and young adult years while simultaneously reflecting on her father, Bruce (Robert Petkoff). Her dad is a high school English teacher who also runs the family funeral home and has a fixation on restoring old houses. He also leads a double life as an in-the-closet gay man who seduces young men on the down low, including ones who are under age.

Grown-up Alison laments the fact that her “beginning” (her coming out of the closet as a 19-year-old college freshman) was simultaneous with her father’s “ending” (four months after Alison makes known her homosexuality, he commits suicide because of actions surrounding his).

Bechdel’s story plays out with the help of two additional actresses portraying her: Abby Corrigan fills the role of 19-year-old Medium Alison, and Carly Gold makes her spectacular professional debut as Small Alison, the 10-year-old version of Bechdel. 

Along the way, we also encounter Alison’s mom, Helen (Susan Moniz), who realizes the truth about her husband but remains hauntingly loyal to him. In scenes with Small Alison, we get a glimpse of her brothers Christian (Luke Barbato Smith) and John (Henry Boshart).

Tesori and Kron’s collaboration brilliantly weaves the musical numbers throughout the production in a way that propels the drama — along with occasional spurts of comedic relief — in a significant manner. 

A standout number, “Come to the Fun Home,” comes courtesy of the three kids in the cast presenting a hilarious commercial for their father’s funeral home business. Another favorite is Corrigan’s spot-on performance of “Changing My Major,” a celebratory anthem in response to her first overnight encounter with girlfriend Joan (the delightful Victoria Janicki).

Although at times going back and forth between segments of Small Alison and Medium Alison might seem random, it all makes sense coming from the perspective of adult Alison. As a grown up, she’s traveling down the twisting path of her memory to make sense of herself and her family dynamic. Her experience is not unlike that for anyone else trying to gain a better understanding of self and the people who raise us — and that perspective changes through the various seasons and ages of life. What we don’t understand about our parents and how they act when we are children looks a lot different through the lens of grown-up eyes and life experience.

There’s certainly a tragic truth in this real-life story wherein the openness of sexual self-expression that liberates Alison was a societal taboo during the era in which her father grew up.

The entire Fun Home cast presents Bechdel’s life story in fine form. It’s an impeccable production that will perhaps make you look at your own upbringing in a different way. Because, even though the circumstances and situations may vary, most of us grow up in families that have their own secrets.

Due to mature subject matter and language, Fun Home is not appropriate for young kids. It’s doable for ages 13 and older, and it also makes a great date night opportunity with your significant other.

 

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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