BWW Review: FUN HOME at Shea's 710 Theatre
Intelligent, engaging and well cast theatre has returned to the former Studio Arena Theatre with MusicalFare's fine production of FUN HOME. The space may now be called by a different name, Shea's 710 Theatre, but those floor boards have been tread by ingenious predecessors who forged new works worthy of discussion and revelations in the 1960's and 70's. FUN HOME fits perfectly into the space physically and dramatically, challenging the audience with concepts of fidelity, sexuality and escapism.
Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Alison Bechdel, this TONY AWARD winning musical has a score by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Ms. Bechdel. This powerhouse female team has written a raw piece of theatre that could easily stand on it's own as a dramatic play, but is instead heightened by Tesori's contemporary score. It's recurring motifs become haunting, but include charmers like "Changing My Major" and "Come to the Fun Home."
The Fun Home is short for funeral home, the family business. We meet Bruce (high school teacher by day) and his wife Helen, their two boys played by the adorable Joseph Bielecki and Jasper Brown, and their daughter Alison. The story is told through 43 year old Alison's words and cartoons- she comments on the action as a memory play. In a brilliant invention, we also have a Small Alison (Jane Hereth) and a Medium Alison (Renee Landrigan). The Fun Home is anything but fun on many accounts-- Bruce buries himself in restoring his historic old home while living a life of a closeted gay married man. Alison reveres her dad and just wants his love and approval, especially as she comes to grips with her own homosexuality.
Robyn Lee Horn as the oldest Alison does a fine job of holding the production together, commenting on the action as needed, injecting humorous quips and quietly reminiscing on the side lines. Her strong voice had some minor intonation issues on opening night, but they detracted little from the performance. Jane Hereth is a star in the making, commanding the stage with an innocence that only comes from youth, but assertive when needed. Her rendition of "Ring of Keys" was full of optimism and spine tingling rapture and she feels her first sexual attraction to a woman. Renee Landrigan is given the meaty role of college age Alison, full of self doubt and sexual awakening. Landrigan fully conveys the myriad of emotions that one would expect of such a challenging life. When learning of her father's own sexuality, the stakes become much higher, as she hopes they both can find a common ground in their relationship. But getting there is more of a challenge than they both can cope with.
Chris J. Handley is Bruce, the tortured man who lives life covered by a veneer of shiny home restoration projects and putting a pretty facade on the dead as an undertaker. Prone to fits of cursing and outrage, little makes him happy except his flirtations with other men. Handley commands the stage with strong vocals, always appearing on edge and shoe-horned into a life which he is not cut out to lead. He has some predictably uncomfortable interactions with a few male characters played by Steve Copps. Bruce is not always a likable character, and it becomes hard to find sympathy for him, especially when leaving his children alone in New York for the night as he goes out in search of sailors. He ultimate demise comes without being much of a shock, given his disturbing life. Mr. Handley manages the swinging pendulum of emotions deftly.
Michele Marie Roberts shines as the dutiful wife Helen who knows of her husband's infidelities, but tries to carry on. Her performance peaks in the lovely song "Days," where she expresses the pain of a now loveless marriage. Ms. Roberts inhabits this complex role of a woman who must not only accept she has a gay husband, but also how to accept her daughter's sexuality.
LauRen Alaimo completes the cast of 9 as Joan, the college student that Medium Alison falls for. Alaimo brings a self assuredness that helps counter all of the tribulations that Alison is facing.
Director Susan Drozd paces the evening with precision, employing all imaginable spaces in the theatre to immerse the audience in the drama. There are lighter moments to ease the tension, like the fantasy "Can We Watch TV" where Steve Copps shines as the grinning disco dancer boogying to Kristy Cavanagh's joyful choreography. Chris Cavanagh has designed an airy set that suggests the expanse of the old home, while Kari Drozd's costumes simply represent the era.
Music Director Theresa Quinn leads the tight 8 piece orchestra with finesse. Tesori's rhythms and harmonic structure can be challenging, and the musical bar was held high is this production. By the time the three Alison's converge on stage together for the finale, your heart aches having witnessed the challenging life they led but lightened for knowing that Alison's inner strength persevered.
FUN HOME is produced by MusicalFare Theatre at Shea's 710 Main Theatres and runs through May 19, 2019. Contact sheas.org for more information and tickets.