Nancy Sasso Janis
Hartford, CT - The touring company of The Public Theater’s production of ‘Fun Home’ opened at the Bushnell on Tuesday. The musical is based on the the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron. This production was restaged for the road by director Sam Gold, with music supervision by Chris Fenwick.
Kate Shindle, a former Miss America and currently the (unpaid) president of Actors’ Equity, plays the role of the nation’s most famous lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel in the first Broadway musical to feature a young lesbian protagonist. ‘Fun Home’ tells the story of Ms. Bechdel’s discovery of her own sexuality and her relationship with her gay father as she attempts to unlock the mysteries surrounding her life.
The writer/artist’s memoir presented in comics format was published in 2006 to critical acclaim. It chronicles her coming of age with a heavy emphasis on her relationship with her father Bruce. Ms. Bechdel’s coming out is complicated when she learns that her father, a funeral director and English teacher who is obsessively restoring the family’s Victorian home, has had homosexual relationships, some with students under the age of consent. Four months after the author comes out to her parents in a letter that she writes from Oberlin College, Bruce is killed by an oncoming truck. All of this is shared with the audience in the song “Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue” early in the musical, so there are no real surprises in this non-linear storytelling.
It is a harrowing childhood remembered by the adult Alison that is at times difficult to watch. I had a tough time getting past how poorly the character of the father treats everyone around him, not the least of which is his only daughter. The music is very closely integrated into the script and the small orchestra adds much to the action. Thankfully, the pretend commercial for the family business performed by the three children in the cast "Come to the Fun Home" adds a bit of levity; the memorable "Ring of Keys" is also performed beautifully by the youngest Alison.
The small cast did an admirable job of bringing the variously damaged characters to life. Ms. Shindle has chopped her hair to more closely resemble the cartoonist and was an almost constant onstage presence. Her Broadway credits include Legally Blonde (Vivienne) and Cabaret (Sally Bowles.) Carly Gold, who thanks dance teacher Janine Molinari in her bio, did very well in the role of Small Alison; clearly a professional, she remained a child for the part. Abby Corrigan took on the teenaged role of Medium Alison; she did well with “Changing My Major.”
Robert Petkoff (Tateh in ‘Ragtime’ on Broadway) played the difficult role of Bruce with conviction and Susan Moniz (‘Grease’ on Broadway) gave a heartfelt performance as his wife Helen. The young boys in the family were played by Luke Barbato Smith (as Christian) and Henry Boshart (as John in his professional debut); Kally Duling (‘Fun Home’ on Broadway) was Alison’s first (very confident) girlfriend Joan. Robert Hager played four male roles well.
The orchestra, under the direction of Micah Young (on keyboards,) included Jakob Reinhardt on guitars, Alan Stevens Hewitt on basses, Philip Varricchio on reeds, John Doing on drums and percussion, Eric Dahlin on cello and Jaroslaw Lis on violin/viola. Theirs was a beautiful sound to accent the proceedings. I had some trouble discerning the lines and lyrics at several points and some of the lighting was probably more effective in the Circle in the Square than it was in the more traditional setting of the Bushnell. The scenic and costume design of David Zinn was both authentic and impressive.
‘Fun Home’ is presented without an intermission. Recommended for ages 13 and up. The tour at The Bushnell runs through June 25.
Pictured: Kate Shindle and Robert Petkoff. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus