BWW Review: FUN HOME is a Touching Coming of Age Story with Real Heart
FUN HOME, the Tony Award winning musical based on the graphic novel style memoir by Alison Bechdel initially seems like something that just can't work. The story, framed around her relationship with her father, is about Alison growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania, working at the family funeral (fun) home then going off to college, and learning more about her father as she grows up and after he dies rather suddenly. The source material hits every emotion, and the stage production manages to really capture the feel of the book and elevate the emotion in a way that's hard to do just in text. The trouble of adapting a graphic novel too, is that the audience who have read it, already have very specific ideas of how a stage production should look. Great care was evident in the set design and costuming to make sure that the stage show matches the book. Book and lyrics writer Lisa Kron was also very canny to keep the story about the Bechdel family, but hone in on universal themes of growing up, finding independence and starting to see your parents and real people, rather than just as an extension of yourself. This may be the story of one family, but everyone can see a bit of themselves in it too.
The story is framed by Alison Bechdel as an adult graphic novelist trying to capture the story of her childhood, and her relationship with her father, as other actors portray certain pivotal events. There are three actresses playing Alison at various points of her life, with adult Alison played by Kate Shindle. Not only does Shindle have an outstanding voice, but she perfectly captures the exasperation of trying to create art. This frustration is heightened because she's trying to find the perfect caption to describe what happened in her real life--little details like that are part of the universality of the story.
Young Alison, called Small Alison in the program, is played by Carly Gold, a bundle of energy who seems to be all arms and legs. Gold manages that rare combination of child actor skills where she is both effusive and childlike, but can also handle the gravity of situations far beyond her years. In particular, her performance of the song "Ring of Keys" is incredibly touching and heartfelt.
Medium Alison, played by Abby Corrigan, is Alison as she sets off for college. Perhaps it's because everyone has very specific memories of being that age, and then inevitable big life changes it brings, but her performance was the most moving and delightful of the evening. Clad in ill-fitting jeans with an awkward boyish haircut, Medium Alison is very much a person who has not learned to be comfortable in her own skin yet, and Corrigan conveys this beautifully. She seems to be hiding from herself, and hiding her face behind her hair, but she's also determined to seek out new information and experiences. Corrigan's portrayal of this character is just perfect, and her performance of "Changing My Major" is a delight of laughter, relief and emotion.
This production resonates on many levels and is both heartwarming and heartbreaking--much like life. Despite the seemingly serious nature of the issues covered, it's also genuinely hilarious in parts, and the balance of joy and sorrow is such that the audience won't come out feeling exhausted, but rather hopeful.
Fun Home runs November 7-12 at Providence Performing Arts Center 220 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02906. Children under 6 years of age not permitted.
Not recommended for children under 13 years old. Tickets available at ppacri.org