Theater Review: FUN HOME (National Tour)

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by Tony Frankel on February 23, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


The Tony-winning 2013 coming-of-age memory play/chamber musical Fun Home—based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 semi-autobiographical graphic novel—is a worthy coming-out tale. We get the inside portrait of a lesbian daughter who learns more than she wanted from her gay dad. With music by Jeanine Tesori (Caroline. or Change, Shrek) and lyrics and book by Lisa Kron, this unpretentious 105-minute one-act honors family mysteries and the way that loved ones can transform into ghosts even before they’re gone.

Fun Home


Any unstinting quest for the past is bound to alter the present, happily or else. On display through April 1, 2017 at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre, the national tour (through August 2017) may belong in a smaller house, but an astonishingly well-cast ensemble offers the honesty of this true-life confessional. As if to make up for lost time, the first Broadway musical with a lesbian lead tells many tales in one.


43-year-old cartoonist Alison (Kate Shindle) reclaims her back history by dividing herself up—her present self, as well as “small” and “medium” Alisons, each registering no more than she knew at the time. Spooling out chronologically, the life of Alison becomes a series of complex reactions to her secretive, insular and—we learn early on—suicidal father Bruce (Robert Petkoff). Collateral damage, Alison’s mother Helen (Susan Moniz) can only lament the loveless drudgery of an unmanageable marriage, offered in the haunting “Days and Days.”

With the laser vision of early impressions, 10-year-old Alison (Alessandra Baldacchino) returns us to the title Pennsylvania funeral home managed by her closeted, driven dad Bruce. In a house that felt more like a museum, small Alison remembers good things like playing “airplane” and creating a commercial for her dad’s business, which she performs with her brothers Christian (Pierson Salvador) and John (Lennon Nate Hammond) in and around a casket.

“Fun Home” is one of Tesori’s most infectious songs, and the young performers simply amaze in their ability to execute Danny Mefford’s infectious choreography with such authentic awkwardness. The 70s’ variety show lights in this number elucidate Ben Stanton’s gorgeous design, which fills the cavernous space hovering over this small but mighty musical. Baldacchino also has the show’s other memorable tune, “Ring of Keys,” young Alison’s acknowledgement of her puzzling connection to a unseen butch delivery woman; it’s practically a love letter that dares not speak its name. Aided by the onstage orchestra, masterfully balancing John Clancy’s soulful orchestrations under Micah Young’s direction, Baldacchino’s yearning reaches to the heavens.

Young Alison also recalls the local lads—customers, yard workers or students (all played by the necessarily young and sexy Robert Hager) who Bruce patronizes with a passion. She sees Bruce as both a mortician doubling as a fussbudget decorator—bent on restoring their home to Victorian splendor—and a clueless control freak who, lacking direction of his own, ironically tells her how to draw. Witnessing her parents’ internecine warfare, including her father’s dangerous dalliances with minors, she prefers imaginary domesticity like the Partridges (“Rainbow of Love”).

At the same time, college-age Alison (Abby Corrigan) shyly visits the Gay Student Union and falls hard for Joan, a no-nonsense, reassuringly secure young lover. Corrigan easy gives one of the best performances I’ve seen in a musical, and the scene where she first sleeps with Joan (the delightful “Changing My Major”) is a master class in organic acting (remember, these thespians have been touring for some time).

When medium Alison comes out by writing home, Bruce’s reaction—or lack thereof—is cryptic. But that’s basically the emotional stand-off or psychological impasse that Fun Home circles obsessively, a daughter both for and against a dad. Here, what isn’t said or doesn’t happen, like the frustratingly inconclusive “Telephone Wire,” counts even more than treacherous memories that mutate in retrospection. What might have been can haunt, plaguing folks who don’t believe in ghosts.

Sam Gold’s direction is clearly responsible for this flawless ensemble that seems a family in its own right (and the brilliant coup de théâtre reveal of the funeral home’s interior is a testament to both Gold and set designer David Zinn). A few of the numbers are impenetrable on first hearing, given Tesori’s atonal melody and Kron’s deeply poetic lyrics, but others are profound and memorable. And while the sound is very good, it’s occasionally challenging, especially when the kids sing.

Fun Home manages to move beyond a valedictory tale of children learning from parents’ lies. The depiction of a necessarily incomplete and fatally unfinished Bruce reverberates even more because of the three Alisons who forge an imagined whole greater than her life. The fun may be ironic but the feelings register and relate in all directions.


alessandra-baldacchino-as-small-alison-with-kathe-shindle-background-as-alison-in-fun-homephotos by Joan Marcus

Fun Home
national tour presented by Center Theatre Group
at the Ahmanson Theatre
ends in L.A. on April 1, 2017
for tickets, call 213.972.4400 or visit CTG
tour continues until August, 2017
for dates and cities, visit Fun Home

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Cris Franco February 27, 2017 at 12:02 am

I liked Fun Home, too, despite the Ahmanson being much too cavernous a venue for such an intimate story. The cast handles the material in the sensitive yet adventurous manner dictated by this utterly original story. No stand out performances. The true star is the book, music and lyrics which all soar from start to finish. Unfortunately, the restrictions of the boxy Ahmanson don’t allow for the inventive and inspiring sets and lights of the original Broadway production — leaving L.A. audiences to experience this daring new musical via flat and common visuals. Nevertheless, I highly recommend Fun Home.


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