C. Austin Hill
- Ohio Columnist
On October 9, I had the opportunity to see the first national tour of Fun Home in the tour’s first stop in Cleveland, Ohio. In full disclosure, I hadn’t planned on writing a review of this production for OnStage, as I attended as a private audience member as opposed to a critic invited by the theatre or production. That said, my experience of this remarkable show was such that I think it bears public discussion.
Being already familiar with Fun Home in its original graphic novel form, and having heard the Broadway cast recording a number of times, I knew that this was a show that I wanted to share with my family. I took my 12 and 21-year-old sons, my 15-year-old daughter, and my wife to the Connor Palace Theatre in Cleveland. This was our first visit to Playhouse Square, having just moved to nearby Youngstown (about an hour away from Cleveland) in June. The Connor Palace, a former Vaudeville hall-turned-movie palace is beautiful and well-equipped, though it’s worth saying that the leg room in the balcony left something to be desired (isn’t this often the case?).
From the moment we entered the house, it was clear that this was no ordinary Broadway musical. There was no show curtain, just a sparse set under warming lights. The band was on stage, at the back, allowing the apron to extend into the first row—a nice choice for this intimate production. And, of course, the big question was how well the intimacy of the material would translate from the small Circle in the Square to the monstrous road house. The answer, I’m delighted to report, is extremely well.
From the moment of Small Alison’s (beautifully rendered by Alessandra Baldaccino, fresh from the Broadway production) entrance, the 2,700-person sell out (impressive for an early Sunday evening performance) audience was entranced. Kate Shindle (Alison), Robert Petkoff (Bruce), Susan Moniz (Helen), and the rest of the cast was tremendous, breathing life and freshness into Alison Bechdel’s characters. The real standout, however, was Abby Corrigan in the role of Medium Alison—Bechdel’s college-aged version of herself. Corrigan, a recent high school graduate, delivered a tour-du-force performance, navigating the sensitivity, vulnerability, and comedy of her character with undeniable humanity and grace. Her voice was incredibly polished and lovely, and her performance complex and nuanced. My family and I found her very moving and talked about her performance extensively on our way home.
The restaging of the play, taking it from an arena stage to a proscenium, was well conceived and executed by the production’s Tony Award-winning director Sam Gold. While I was worried that the adult Alison might get lost or be rendered stationary with the placement of her work table, Gold opted to put her station of wheels, easily maneuvered by Shindle throughout the production—and he managed to make the movement natural, motivated, and appropriate, ensuring that it never felt like a device. Near the middle of the production, a section of the story takes place in New York City and other areas, and was rendered with the use of a white (or light gray) brick wall with two doors. My family and I agreed that this visual choice was not as strong as the flexible and open primary setting of the play, making it difficult to ascertain where we were in time and place—was, for example, the café in which the song “Ring of Keys” takes place supposed to be in New York City? I hadn’t thought so, but taking place in front of this wall, it appeared that it might be. A minor complaint, though, as the use of the wall allowed for the creation of a literal rendition of the interior of the Bechdel’s home on Maple Avenue in western Pennsylvania, a visual reveal so stunning that it garnered gasps from many in the audience—myself included.
If there was one other complaint from this production, it’s that there were some sound problems. There were times when it was difficult to hear individual voices and lyrics during group numbers, and there were times when the band was slightly too loud in comparison to the voices. I don’t know whether the blame lies on the Connor Palace’s equipment or on the production’s equipment, and I suspect that these problems will be addressed quickly as the tour continues.
A non-linear story is challenging for some, but Jeanine Tesori (music) and Lisa Kron (book and lyrics) managed to guide their audience through the ploy-lines with great dexterity. My 12-year-old had no problem whatsoever following the story at any point. Instead, he—and the rest of my family—found the musical incredibly moving. My 15-year-old daughter and I spent over half of the evening clinging to each other, alternating between weeping and laughing—who can ask for more than that? I highly recommend this production to any and all readers.
Photo: Kate Shindle, Abby Corrigan and Alessandra Baldacchino in Fun Home (Joan Marcus)
Here is a link to details on future tour stops: https://www.broadway.org/tours/details/fun-home,652.