BWW Review: FUN HOME at Winspear Opera House
Fun Home will always have a special place in my heart. The score and source material are some of the most thoughtful work on the stage in recent years - not to mention the innovation of the Broadway staging. Needless to say, I was curious how well the show would lend itself to tour, perhaps even a bit wary. And yet, with all my expectations, the Fun Home tour indeed made me want to "play airplane."
Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron's adaptation of Alison Bechdel's "tragicomic" graphic novel celebrates growing up, coming, our, and discovery of self through a clever arrangement of retrospectives. A meta-narrator, Alison herself (played by the legendary Kate Shindle: president of Actor's Equity, former Miss America, and Broadway vet), digs through memories of her childhood while trying to draw a comic of her life. As she begins to reminisce, her childhood self, college-aged self, and family all spring to life. We weave in and out of Bechdel's early life in Pennsylvania and her coming out in college. Eventually these timelines overlap and intersect as Narrator-Alison begins to reconcile her relationship with her father, who's suicide inspired her to draw the comic to begin with.
The performed-through (no intermission, and it does not need one) act focuses most heavily on Alison's early life - where Small Alison (newcomer Carly Gold) begins to find herself at odds with her... complex father Bruce (Robert Petkoff). Alison slowly struggles against gender constraints, eventually noticing a delivery woman in the strikingly joyous ballad "Ring of Keys" and beginning to realize her sexuality. All the while her father attempts to force typicality onto her, hiding her and his own suppressed sexuality under a veneer of polish and shiny perfection. Just as Bruce restores houses and as a mortician restores bodies, so too does he try cover up the damage, hide the scars, and refurbish his family and life to be perfect and acceptable. This is the true tragedy of the family, dealt with subtly by Alison's mother Helen (played beautify by Susan Moniz) as Bruce spirals down. Just as Bruce begins to take a nose dive, Medium Alison (Abby Corrigan) bursts into the air as she discovers who she is and what she wants, notably in the arms of fellow college student Joan (Victoria Janicki). The rest of the cast is rounded out with Alison's brothers Christian and John (the young Luké Barbato Smith and Henry Boshart respectively) and Robert Hager playing the multitude of Male walk-ons (Roy/Marl/Pete/Bobby Jeremy).
Tours can be tricky - often times the casts are very different than the originals or recordings, which is both a blessing and a curse. Audiences expecting to hear Michael Cerveris crazy tenor or want to see Shindle let loose her vocals (seriously, she could sing my chemistry textbook and win a Grammy) will be disappointed. However, if audiences walk in expecting a fresh a new version of a wonderfully directed show, they are in for a treat. Performers like Moniz and Corrigan are markedly different from their predecessors, and the differences are oh so special. Moniz takes a warm, guttural approach to her gorgeous ballad "Days and Days," and Corrigan's slightly dorky joy as Medium Alison permeates every scene, even when she rests her strong soprano. The cast is a pleasure to watch, and though the kids in the cast might get a bit tired over the course of the evening, every number bounces along with the energy it needs. My only possible complaint is one I often have for early performances in the Winspear - and that is sound balancing. The space really is an opera house, and many musical tours, especially something as intimate as Fun Home will take a bit of work to mix well. I was slightly disappointed by the finale of the show, which I think includes one of the most dynamic female trios in musical theatre, where the sound seemed to fall flat.
Nonetheless, Fun Home is not one to miss. I loved how fresh the show seemed, while remaining faithful to the direction (Sam Gold) and style that made the show so inventive to begin with. Really, this show brings me nothing but joy - and as the show opens and closes with Small Alison wanting to fly, playing "airplane" with her both distant and caring father, I too want to put my arms out and fly.
Fun Home runs through September 24th at the Winspear Opera House. More information can be found at attpac.org.