Book by Lisa Kron; Music by Jeanine Tesori; Lyrics by Lisa Kron
Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel
AT&T Performing Arts Center
Directed by Sam Gold
Scenic and Costume Design by David Zinn
Lighting Design by Ben Stanton
Sound Design by Kai Harada
Hair and Wig Design by Rick Caroto
Music Direction by Micah Young
Music Supervision by Chris Fenwick
Choreography by Danny Mefford
CAST (In order of appearance)
Alison --- Kate Shindle
Small Alison --- Carly Gold
Small Alison (at certain performances) … Jadyn Schwartz
Bruce --- Robert Petkoff
Medium Alison --- Abby Corrigan
Helen --- Susan Moniz
Christian --- Luké Barbato Smith
John --- Henry Boshart
Joan --- Victoria Janicki
Roy/Mark/Pete/Bobby Jeremy --- Robert Hager
Reviewed Performance: 9/16/2017
Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Theater Critic/Editor/Founder, THE COLUMN. Member, AMERICAN THEATRE CRITICS ASSOCIATION for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Caption here. What is the caption here? How do I write or “draw” this to make the reader interested in this review and show?
Okay, here’s my caption: A gay, scared Latino boy growing up in a small Texas town. He comes from a strict Catholic family (even though his parents divorced when he was five). His mother remarried a man who was a disgusting alcoholic who abused his mother, brother, and himself. This Latin boy was short and massively overweight, ballooning up to close to 400lbs. But this boy was never in the closet. He knew from a very early age he liked boys. Now, he didn’t proclaim this during morning announcements at school. He knew it and just accepted it. He was one of the very few Latin students in a high school that was predominantly white. He was bullied horribly, laughed at, and sometimes pushed or shoved by some of the jocks every single day. Here’s the punchline, one of these jock bullies (a Football player) also happened to be this Latin boy’s first love, they were together during their Junior and Senior years. They would drive late at night into those hill country roads, park, hold each other and the jock poured his heart out on everything about himself. The Latin boy listened and held him close to his heart as the jock sobbed. And yet this same Jock on the very next day would join in with his buddies of shouting out to the Latin boy in the hallways, “Here comes that fat faggot!” ;“Where does he get clothes to fit that fat gross body?” and it even got uglier.
So what is the caption? Even with ALL that he survived. He survived.
All this may sound quite cliché, but that was my childhood. Everyone has different childhoods from elementary all the way through college. But growing up gay can and is a path that is very hard, painful, and tormenting.
Fun Home, the 2015 winner for Best Musical reveals in stark reality what life is like for a lesbian girl, her gay closeted father and her family behind the walls of their beautiful, “perfect and polished” home on Maple Avenue that their father slaved over to rebuild.
The musical is based on the book Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by cartoonist Alison Bechdel. This matter of fact memoir chronicles Bechdel’ childhood and youth in s rural Pennsylvania. The book dives deep into the entangled relationship with her father. The themes included sexual orientation, gender roles, suicide, emotional abuse, and dysfunctional family life. It took Bechdel seven years to write and draw this book. Bechdel has her own cartoon strip called Dykes to Watch Out For.
The first production of the musical debuted Off Broadway at the Public Theater in September 2013. During its run there, it was extended several times due to audience demand and the overflowing praise from the critics.
In April 2015 the musical constructed a new home on Broadway at Circle in the Square Theatre. The musical repeated its off-Broadway success by receiving bountiful critical praise from the New York critics. Fun Home earned 12 Tony award nominations, winning five including Best Book, Best Music, Best Direction, and Best Musical. Now a national tour of Fun Home has been mounted, and has built a new home at the Winspear Opera House.
Be warned now that there is NO intermission. I felt this was a brilliant choice. Because we as the audience become so emotionally involved as the evening goes on, that if there was an intermission this would have broken the thread of the arc and the emotion. An intermission would have forced the cast to reconnect with the audience and get them back on track.
A second warning: The Bechdel patriarch is building and constructing a new home, both inside and out. There is no yellow tape or orange cones to warn you “under construction”. But there should be some sort of emotional warning cones on stage, because your heart will crumble under the pain of this piece.
I have seen several musicals at Circle on the Square in New York, which has the audience sitting on three sides of the house. Thus I was curious how David Zinn’s scenic design would work on a proscenium stage. I think it would magnificently, and maybe even better. Like the original, Zinn’s set primarily consists of classic furniture pieces strewn all over the stage. At first it may look sparse, but there is a reason for this. The orchestra is placed far upstage on the long platform. There is a blinding white wall that comes down midway through the piece to signify the hotel room that the father and three kids are staying at on a weekend excursion to the Big Apple. They bought some bric-n-brac and caught a performance of A Chorus Line. A couple of scenes later the wall rises up, flips over and becomes a ceiling. It reveals a sumptuous, elegant home with paintings, plush furniture, and a grand piano. But oh the subtext this perfect home reveals is devastating. The eight piece orchestra that is musically directed by Micah Young is lush, grand, and has live strings, which I wish all orchestras in musicals have. These sensational musicians deliver orchestration vitality and emotion to Jeanine Tesori’s score.
Ben Stanton’s lighting design is incredibly impressive. Like the rest of this production team, Stanton studied the book and score where to give a musical number or scene subtext and foreshadowing. For example in the number “Come to the Fun Home" sung by the three kids. This is a very funny up-tempo song that has the kids performing the commercial they having been working on forever. Oh, the commercial is for their dad’s business, a funeral home (get it? Fun Home). During this number Stanton smartly used the colors of the iconic rainbow flag. When the musical shifts into the darker emotions and scenes Stanton creates lighting that bleeds out the emotion from the score.
Jeanine Tesori has composed the scores for such musicals as Violet, Millie, Caroline or Change, and Shrek. But her score for Fun Home is her best work so far, and one of the best scores for a Broadway musical in the last ten years. It is a pastiche of songs. She runs the gamut, from belting ballads, to festive company numbers, plus duets, trios, and solos. But Tesori completely understood how to write for some of the most heartbreaking moments in Lisa Kron’s first rate book. Tesori’s music never felt anticipated or hokey. Instead she knew just what instrument to use, the beats, the volume, and specifically where music was needed. The company all delivered matchless, consummate performances. Luké Barbato Smith and Henry Boshart are charming and adorable as the two Bechdel boys. They are wonderfully jovial in the number "Come to the Fun Home", which they sing along with their sister. Robert Hager is the only actor in the company to portray several roles, each one done with finesse. Victoria Janicki portrays Joan, the college girl medium Alison falls in love with. It was perplexing that this character, which fixtures as one of the major reasons Alison came out had no major solo/song. Janicki is physically a ravishing beauty. What was problematic was the slow, slithering, come hither approach she had towards Alison. It didn’t look realistic. For example, when Alison is on her college bed, Janicki saunters over, puts her knee on the bed, it caused her to position it between Alison’s legs, then reaching over, bending over ever so slowly close to Alison’s face, then reaching instead for her book pac. It didn’t feel or look like the honest beginnings of a crush, but instead awkward and cliché. Once Ms. Janicki settled into her character’s groundings she gave a splendid performance. Robert Petkoff delivers a prodigious performance as Bruce Bechdel, a father of three children, married to a woman whom he met when they did theater in college. Mr. Bechdel is a teacher, is also rebuilding their current home, and does the interior design as well. And he owns and runs a funeral home, which includes getting the bodies ready for public viewing. He does all this, but we see why. He occupies all his time (and mind) in order to push down and forget his passion and lust for a man. It consumes him like an inferno, so that when does let these urges overtake him, he either gets in trouble with the police, or explodes into arguments with his wife, or takes it out on his children. Petkoff has such a dark, extremely painful arc to crest his talents on. But he succeeds with remarkable, devastating results. Out of all the songs that Petkoff sings, "Edges of the World" was my personal favorite. This number splatters with raw emotion this man’s conflicted, dying heart and soul. I first had the pleasure of seeing Kate Shindle in the original Broadway production of Legally Blonde at the Palace Theater. Talk about showing range as an actress! She went from the frothy pink, sorority girl musical comedy to an extremely dramatic musical portraying an adult lesbian cartoonist. Shindle is the adult Alison, who serves not only as the narrator of the piece, but she also stays on stage to observe her childhood and life play out before her. There are several long periods of time that Shindle/Alison says nothing, but watch and react to her family implode before her. Her facial expressions and body posture is heartbreaking to observe because we know what she is feeling, without saying a single word. She does on occasion does get to throw out a great zinger that actually allows the audience to burst into laughter, and also a moment to take a breath from the stark emotional horror that is occurring before them. Out of the solos that Shindle has within the score, her stunning, heart crushing performance of the song “Telephone Wire” had me in tears. Carly Gold plays Small Alison, and she is a scene stealer as well as stealing the hearts of the audience. This beautiful tiny girl holds her own among her adult counterparts. Her scene work with Petkoff is some of the best work in book and song within the evening. She has one of the major showstoppers of the night, “Ring of Keys”. Lisa Kron’s lyrics for this song are extraordinary in its ability to speak straight from the heart. The song is small Alison seeing the girl who she has a silent crush on. Gay or straight we all have had that first crush, but never act on it. This song and its lyrics will cause your heart to push against your ribcage. Medium Alison is in college and is a scared, deeply shy, but quite smart girl who falls in love. Abby Corrigan delivers a phenomenal performance that is rich in comedy and drama. Her exquisite face reveals every tick of her beating heart and soul. Be it falling for Joan, or having to deal with her parents, especially her father. This young girl does not have a hint of not being in the moment or “pretending”. The girl is glued to the truth and subtext of her character. Corrigan does a transcendent job with the glorious number “Changing My Major”. It is no secret I wear my heart and emotions on the outside. So if a movie, TV show, song, or stage piece causes me to shed a tear, well so be it. But once in while there comes a performance that spears directly into my heart, splits it wide open and the tears pour out. But when this happens on stage, I am reminded why I love, respect, and admire so much the artistry of musical theater. Susan Moniz is Helen Bechdel, John’s wife and the mother of his three children. Moniz’s characterization and work in Fun Home makes her THE performance you will never forget. This incredibly talented actress carries her subtext with astonishing realism. She does not exaggerate her face, but instead shows with her eyes and subtle facial expressions how she “knows” about her husband’s secret life. Watch her when her husband takes the new hired hand guy to help him with the house. She knows his intensions and she lets the audience be aware of that. When medium Alison comes home from college, she sits with her mother to discuss her father’s sexuality. This is when Moniz explodes with gut punching screams in her song, “Days and Days.” Kron’s lyrics nail what her heart is roaring about and what she has to deal with in her shattering marriage. With tears streaming down her face, Moniz’s attack on this song with catastrophic, graphic, raw honesty had me almost sobbing in my seat. Thank god for the house being dark. I could not stop the tears. But then came the final line Moniz says, and I gasped. Susan Moniz’s portrayal of this woman is a one of kind performance you will never forget. This musical will pull out a lot of emotions from within you. It is extremely rare that these kinds of musicals go on tour anymore. By this I mean a small cast that has no massive sets, or tons of costumes, or lots of scene changes. It is an intimate musical with a small cast. But has massive emotion that will take you on an emotional journey that will astound you. Fun Home goes way beyond and outside the box of what a musical is or what people expect it to be. It shows where the art and creation of the musical can go. This is a masterpiece.
FUN HOME (National Tour)
Book by Lisa Kron; Music by Jeanine Tesori; Lyrics by Lisa Kron
Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel
Winspear Opera House, ATT Performing Arts Center
Through September 24, 2017
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