A mother, a father, two sons and daughter. Sounds like an average American family, right? In Fun Home, not exactly.
In the first national touring production of the 2015 Best Musical Tony Award Winner, based upon lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel of the same name, Fun Home explores what it’s like to struggle with sexuality, gender roles, and other sensitive topics while growing up in a dysfunctional family. In the show, performed with no intermission, Alison Bechdel (played by Kate Shindle) reflects on her life during her college years (“Medium Alison” played by Abby Corrigan) and as a ten-year-old (“Small Alison” played by Alessandra Baldacchino) to try and unravel the enigma that was her father, Bruce Bechdel (played by Robert Petkoff) – the director of the Bechdel family funeral home (hence “Fun Home”) and a closeted gay man – and Alison’s belief that her own coming out led to his eventual suicide.
The captivating true story of Alison Bechdel’s family life is complimented by a gorgeous, emotional score written and composed by Tony Award winning team Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron. Tesori and Kron bring a pivotal moment in 10-year-old Alison’s self discovery – when she spots an “old school butch” looking woman in a diner – to fruition with arguably the show’s most recognizable and catchy tune, “Ring of Keys”. Other shining moments in the score include “Come to the Fun Home”, a high energy, dance-heavy sequence with Small Alison and her younger brothers making a commercial for the Bechdel funeral home, and “Edges of the World”, an incredibly raw and moving scene towards the end of the show when Bruce finally reaches his breaking point in regards to his well kept secrets he has hidden from his family and the people in his small home town in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania. Moments such as these would not be nearly as impactful without the supporting cast members – such as Karen Eilbacher as “Joan”, Alison’s college girlfriend, who plays incredibly well to Corrigan’s awkward-yet-relatable Medium Alison.
On Broadway, the show was originally performed in the round at the Circle in the Square Theatre, so major revisions had to be made to Fun Home’s staging for it to work on tour. Without losing any of its ability to deeply connect with an audience, the Fun Home set is simple, yet flexible, with moving walls and furniture items to act in place of the intimacy the Circle in the Square Theatre provided the Broadway production. Even in a larger space like Chicago’s Oriental Theatre, the set works to suck you in and make you feel apart of the family dynamic and Alison’s internal struggles. In fact, for what the physical theatre space lacks in candidness like in the round on Broadway, the aforementioned supporting cast (along with the three Alisons) make up for in full force by way of their transparency, openness, and graceful respect for their real life counterparts when portraying the Bechdels as the family tumbles through the show’s rollercoaster of emotions. Often times, the acting was so powerful myself and a majority of the audience were left breathless during the intense, serious moments that you just can’t not pay attention to and audibly sobbing during the cathartic moments that tug at your heart strings.
Fun Home is no stranger to catharsis in the grand scheme of things, either. At its open in 2015, the show was full of firsts that were like a breath of fresh air to many avid theatre goers: it was, surprisingly, the first Broadway musical to feature a lesbian protagonist as well as the first musical to win the Tony for Best Musical with an all-female creative team at its helm. In an industry that’s been traditionally favorable to gay men in storytelling, I feel that Fun Home is and will continue to be an invaluable story for not just the theatre community, but also for the queer community for decades to come. Whether you’re apart of the LGBT+ community or not, Fun Home is a relatable coming-of-age journey for anyone and everyone and is without a doubt a must-see.
Fun Home is currently touring across the country. Visit funhomebroadway.com for more info.