Music by Jeanine Tesori.
Book & Lyrics by Lisa Kron.
Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel.
Directed by Sam Gold.
Music Supervision by Chris Fenwick.
Choreographed by Danny Mefford.
Produced by Broadway In Chicago.
At the Oriental Theatre, Chicago.
Innovative emotionally powerfully memory chamber musical is an engrossing experience.
Fun Home, now playing in a two week run at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago, is a curious Broadway musical on many levels. Ultimately, Fun Home carries a powerful emotional impact as the entire show works much better than any of its parts. I was enchanted mainly by Jeanine Tesori’s ( Caroline, or Change, Shrek The Musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Violet) hauntingly varied score. This memory musical is based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel – Fun Home. It won Tony’s for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score in 2015.
The story concerns Bechdel’s discovery of her own sexuality, her relationship with her gay father, and her attempts to unlock the mysteries surrounding his life. It is the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist. The work’s structure is a bit cluttered and somewhat confusing early on. But stay with it as it sucks us in. The score is varied, haunting and emotionally wrenching at times. The music and the story are compelling.
As she works Alison’s memoir in the present day, successful middle-aged cartoonist Alison Bechdel (Kate Shindle) recalls two time periods in her life. First as a ten year old -Small Alison (Alessandra Baldacchino) when she struggles against her father Bruce’s (Robert Petkoff) obsessive demands and begins to identify her troubling sexuality. We see her growing up with a provocative father who is a high school English teacher, a funeral director and a restorer of old home in small town Pennsylvania. Bruce is a man of many moods and a secret life apart form his family.
Later we meet Medium Alison (Abby Corrigan), now a college student who writes a letter to her father stating that she is a lesbian. These early coming out scene gets us to empathize with Alison. Four months after her coming out, Bruce commits suicide. Alison considers the connection between her coming out and her father’s death. She is rejected by her mother, Helen (local Chicago favorite Susan Moniz) as she regrets tolerating her husband’s affairs with men and boys. Alison sees her father disintegrating emotionally on her last visit home from college. The story is engaging despite the flashbacks as we see Alison’s coming of age relations with her father as it has a major impact on her. We see how awkward and vulnerable she was growing up.
As much as Fun Home carries a unique storyline and has several terrific performances ( from Robert Petkoff and Abby Corrigan), I was troubled by the singing and the multi-member harmonies. I couldn’t understand the lyrics from any of the tunes from Small Alison and her brothers. Also, the songs were not really songs but mostly sung dialogue. The lack of a song list in the program acknowledged that. There were a couple of emotionally heartfelt ‘songs’ in the show but mostly the cast sang RECITATIVE: ‘Words sung in a conversational style, usually to advance the plot’. To me the lack of strong voices (except from Susan Moniz in her late anthem) and the talk-song style didn’t work for me. I see a trend in contemporary musicals to not have songs and not cast strong singers as troubling. As staged here, maybe, Fun Home could still work as a drama with several actual songs but no recitative? Fun Home reminds me of Falsettos with a strong Sondheim influence.
But, again I must say that Fun Home is a compelling work that captures the emotional impact of Alison’s memories. The entire production is more than a sum of its parts. This is an artsy work with about a provocative family and a likable protagonist. It is theatrically innovative and ground braking. It is work seeing.
Date Reviewed: November 3, 2016.
For more info checkout the Fun Home page at theatreinchicago.com.
At the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL., tickets $25 – $113, www.broadwayinchicago.com for days and times, call 800-775-2000, running time is 1 hour, 40 minutes without intermission, only running until November 13, 2016.