BWW Review: Gripping and Beautiful FUN HOME at the 5th Avenue
It's not a revival of an old classic. It doesn't have the cache of a recognizable movie title. And it's got a synopsis that may make some people weary. All of these reasons could be why there were far too many empty seats at last night's opening night of "Fun Home" at the 5th Avenue. And that fact of the open seats makes me incredibly sad as this Tony Winner for Best Musical deserves so much more attention as it's one of the most honest, raw and real musicals around today. I cannot urge you enough to see this show.
But let's get to that difficult synopsis first. The show, written by the amazing Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori is derived from the autobiographic graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. We follow lesbian cartoonist Alison (Kate Shindle) as she pieces together the memories of her childhood living with her controlling and broken father Bruce (Robert Petkoff). Life for Small Alison (Carly Gold) is confusing being driven by a father who wants her to think for herself but still tries to put her into a very feminine box. Life continues on it's confusing path for Medium Alison (Abby Corrigan) as she struggles with college and coming to the realization that she is a lesbian. And while Alison is blissful over her new-found identity, not to mention her new girlfriend Joan (Victoria Janicki), her revelation brings into the light skeletons from her father's past as well as how miserable her mother Helen (Susan Moniz) has been dealing with those skeletons all these years.
OK, sure it doesn't sound like a happy little romp but rest assured there is tons of humor amidst all the tears (and yes, I sob throughout this one). But beyond that, this is one of the most raw and vulnerable pieces of writing ever and truly gives an honest portrayal of what it's like to struggle with coming out. And then there's the beautifully soaring music and lyrics that pierce you right to your soul. The show is simply a triumph on all levels.
And how about this cast? I should say that I've seen this show on Broadway ... twice ... with the original cast. I mention this so you'll understand how pleased I was to see this insanely talented touring cast nail it in every way. Shindle absolutely shines in the role and carries the show terrifically as the narrator of the piece and her journey is a wonder to behold. Also killing it with an incredible arc is Petkoff as the searching Bruce as he struggles to find a way to make his life make sense. Moniz brings in a very subtle and thoughtful performance only to make her final number all that much more affecting. Gold and Corrigan each inhabit Alison in her different stages perfectly making the arc as a whole all that much more palpable. Janicki is wonderful as the confident and self-assured Joan. Pulling in multiple characters, Robert Hager's intentions were spot on and crystal clear making each one of his roles integral to the show. And as Alison's younger brothers John and Christian, Henry Boshart and Luke Barbato Smith are delightful.
So basically, this is just one of those near perfect shows. I'll admit I prefer the staging in-the-round from the Broadway run but I can see how that's just not feasible for a national tour and what they do with the more traditional proscenium setup is amazing. And so, with my three-letter rating system I give "Fun Home" at the 5th Avenue Theatre a resounding WOW (my highest rating)! I was blown away the first time I heard the show. I was blown away both times I saw it in New York. And I was blown away now. DO NOT MISS THIS ONE!!!