Review ~ "Fun Home" at Circle in the Square

Tara Kennedy

Welcome to Fun Home on Broadway. This is a brilliant musical production about self-discovery, elation, anguish, and defeat. It is easily one of the best shows on Broadway right now.

The show is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Alison Bechdel, which is an autobiography of her life. It begins with her coming of age in rural Western Pennsylvania, leading into her college experiences and her identity as a lesbian. The theme throughout the show is her relationship with her father, who is a closeted homosexual. Alison narrates her own story, carrying a pad as she draws out her memories that are played out before her.  

Photo by Joan Marcus

Photo by Joan Marcus

Her father, Bruce Bechdel (Michael Cerveris), is an English teacher and a funeral director, with a penchant for historic restoration projects. The Bechdel home is a museum filled with Hepplewhite chairs and Tiffany lamps.  Alison’s mother, Helen (Judy Kuhn), is an actor, wife, and mother, trying to keep the museum in order and her husband’s homosexual encounters under the Persian rug. 

Alison is depicted in the show at three ages: Small (eight-year-old) Alison (Sydney Lucas), Middle (college-age) Alison (Emily Skeggs), and 43-year-old Alison (Beth Malone). The three actors portray Alison at these critical ages with depth and truth. Ms. Lucas shines in “Ring of Keys” where she relays her awareness that she is attracted to a woman: it is poignant, touching, and funny all at the same time. It is an astounding feat for such a young actor. Ms. Skeggs similarly delights in her number, “Changing My Major,” which is a declaration of delight toward her first college lover, Joan (played with cool confidence by Roberta Colindrez).  Medium Alison’s revelation is sweet and moving, bubbling over with that rush of first love.

Overall, Ms. Malone gives a marvelous performance as adult Alison. Her urgent, emotionally overwhelming song, “Telephone Wire” is her highlight: she and her father take a drive the day before she goes back to college from holiday break. It’s her first visit since coming out to her parents. During the ride, Alison tries to connect with her father, getting him to open up to her about being gay. She is singing as if shaking him by the shoulders; her powerful singing aches for acknowledgement from her father, even though she knows he will commit suicide a few weeks later. 

Michael Cerveris is incredible as Bruce Bechdel, who is balancing being a father to his three children in between his collapsing marriage and homosexual affairs with young men. Having seen Mr. Cerveris in a number of other productions, I expected a stellar performance and got one. His inner struggle parallels his constant fixer-upper projects; he strives to create the perfect showpiece home. He examines his last renovation project, a house that Bruce himself said was a goner, as he sings the song, “Edges of the World.” This last project – his own realization that he can’t be the person who he really is and longs to be– ultimately kills him. 

Initially, I wondered why Judy Kuhn agreed to play the role of Helen, Bruce’s put-upon, unhappy wife, since it hardly seemed to highlight Ms. Kuhn’s amazing vocal and acting talents (I saw her as Cosette in the original cast of Les Misérables). Then she sang “Days and Days.” Ms. Kuhn sang as if Helen’s emotional bottle had been uncorked: an outpouring of heart wrenching regret with a final message to her daughter: “I didn’t raise you to give away your days like me.” Her performance is a triumph. 

And what would a show called Fun Home be without any fun? The musical number, “Come to the Fun Home,” brings a Jackson 5-esque theme song, performed by the three Bechdel children as an advertisement for their family’s funeral home. It’s light-hearted and provides featured moments for Alison’s two brothers, Christian (Oscar Williams) and John (Zell Steele Morrow). 

This musical is innovative yet universal in its subject matter. Every family may not be able to relate to closeted relatives, but all families identify with sweeping secrets under the rug; like Helen declares, “It’s like chaos never happens if it’s never seen.” This is a gem of a show that needs to be seen and heard. 

Opens April 19, 2015. Music by Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Violet). Book and Lyrics by Lisa Kron (Well, In the Wake). Directed by Sam Gold (The Real Thing, The Realistic Joneses).