BWW Review: Cadence Theatre Takes on Tony-Winning FUN HOME
"Welcome to our house on Maple Avenue. See how we polish and we shine. We rearrange and align. Everything seems balanced and serene. Like chaos never happens if it's never seen."
These words, at once describing the order and purity of material things, are an unsettling truth by the end of FUN HOME, which kicks off Cadence Theatre's season in celebration of Richmond Triangle Players' 25th anniversary. Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori's Tony Award-winning musical, based on Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir, is a universal story about self-discovery and new beginnings.
FUN HOME is part memory play and part musical that explores three different stages of Allison Bechdel's life: childhood (Violet Craghood-Way); the college years (Elizabeth Wyld); and adulthood (Becca Ayers), as she grapples with the reality of and what led to her father's self-inflicted demise. Don't worry, you learn about Bruce Bechdel's (Duke Lafoon) suicide at the outset. Bruce wears many hats: husband to Helen Bechdel (Andrea Rivette); father to Christian (Brandon McKinney), John (Cole Johnson) and Alison; high school English teacher; funeral director and pedant. While Alison is discovering and openly living her true identity as a lesbian, Bruce goes to great lengths to hold up the picture-perfect-family façade and mask his double life as a closeted gay man. Through Alison, we see the effects his double life has on the family.
The original Broadway production of Fun Home was in the Circle in the Square theatre, which offered audiences a 360-degree experience. Director Chase Kniffen's staging is similar, which is mostly effective. There are some minor sightline issues on both sides of the house. Musical Director Anthony Smith and Vocal Supervisor Stephen Rudlin, together, produce some exceptional vocal performances from the cast. Smith's small orchestra is tight. Kikau Alvaro's choreography, while full of vigor, hampers some of the voices-Most noticeable during the dream sequence "Raincoat of Love," led by Derrick Jaques.
Rich Mason's scenic design makes great use of the Theatre Gym's space and is complemented by Daniel Burgess' properties design and Emily Hake's paintings, which give authenticity to the Bechdel home. Katherine Wright's illustrations are cleverly invoked throughout to offer the audience a peek inside Alison Bechdel's sketchbook. Sarah Grady's costumes and styles span multiple decades and are well selected. Joe Doran deserves special accolades, as he has to account for 360-degree movement. His lighting design is spot on.
An early crowd-pleaser is "Come to the Fun Home," when Cole Johnson, Brandon McKinney and Violet Craghead-Way, as John, Christian and Alison, dance on top of and around a casket singing about the goings-on inside their funeral home ("fun home") household while filming a commercial. The only thing that could make this macabre Jackson 5-inspired turn more fun would be disco lights.
Helen Bechdel is an underwritten role, but Andrea Rivette makes the most of her moments as the long-suffering wife. She gives a tear-jerking performance in the spotlight number "Days and Days," a reflection of a life wasted.
The star of the show is Alison Bechdel. The three perfectly matched females each bring unique qualities to the role, while giving consistent performances to credibly embody the singular character. Each has defining moments throughout the show. Craghead-Way gives an endearing and captivating performance during "Ring of Keys," where she acknowledges her attraction to a delivery woman. Wyld, who completely sinks into the college-aged role, shines in "Changing my Major," as she sings about her first girlfriend, Joan (Michaela Nicole). Ayers is present for the entire production, often in the shadows, ceding to the onstage action. Her "Telephone Wire" perfectly captures Alison's zeal and newly discovered connection with Bruce.
Michael Cerveris won the Tony for his incredibly nuanced performance as Bruce on Broadway. Duke Lafoon makes the role his own, playing to Bruce's more sensitive qualities. At times he offers shades of resentment and anger, but doesn't quite peel back layers of the self-hatred and pathos that made Cerveris' performance so heartbreaking. Lafoon's performance of "Edges of the World" is a highlight of the production.
FUN HOME looks and sounds great, and has many, many moments of brilliance. While the talented cast turns in a strong production that's as fulfilling as it is entertaining, audience members may leave longing for a deeper emotional connection. FUN HOME runs at the Theatre Gym through October 8. Purchase tickets here.