Pictured (l-r): Kate Shindle, Abby Corrigan and Carly Gold. Photo by Joan Marcus.
By Marie Warner
We should probably not be surprised anymore by what source material can inspire a great musical. I went into FUN HOME feeling a little leery about a graphic novel-turned-musical about an emerging lesbian and her closeted father. However, FUN HOME is wryly funny and extremely moving, and Alison Bechdel joins the ranks of Prisoner 24601 and a certain Austrian nun as unexpectedly wonderful musical heroes.
FUN HOME is based on Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. Bechdel was previously best known as a cartoonist writing the comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” which then inspired the eponymous “Bechdel Test.”
FUN HOME utilizes a non-linear structure which bounces between Alison’s childhood and college years, with the adult Alison serving as a narrator of sorts. This provides an incredible opportunity for three talented actresses to dig into a great role. As Alison goes through many monumental changes, we see how her tumultuous relationship with her father and their family funeral home (fun home, for short) shape her life.
Lisa Kron wrote the book and lyrics, and they are smart, funny and affecting. Jeanine Tesori’s score soars, and the vocal arrangements are stunning. This is particularly noticeable in “It All Comes Back” and “Telephone Wire.”
Kate Shindle plays the adult Alison. Shindle is a former Miss America and is the current president of Actors’ Equity Association. This is not a beauty queen role, and Shindle approaches the material with intelligence and grit. I confess to googling photos of her as Miss America afterward because I simply could not reconcile that fact with her performance as Alison.
Carly Gold as Small Alison is full of light and seemingly boundless energy. She has a beautifully clear voice and handles complicated music with aplomb. Her big solo is “Ring of Keys” where Small Alison sees for the first time, a lesbian, who is “handsome,” and feels both in awe of and deeply connected to her. Seeing that moment of connection was incredibly moving.
I was particularly impressed by Abby Corrigan. Her portrayal of college-aged Medium Alison is flawlessly awkward. Her voice is gorgeous, and she brings such vulnerability which is most evident in the joyous, post-coital anthem “Changing My Major.”
The awkward, yet triumphant themes of Alison’s coming out appear in direct contrast to her father’s unsuccessful struggle to suppress his own sexuality. Robert Petkoff is a force as Alison’s father, Bruce. His desperation is palpable and several moments elicited sighs and soft groans of pain from audience members.
Although the subject matter is somber and hard to take at points, I found myself buoyed by this production. We are able to glimpse life experiences that are foreign to some and all too familiar to others. This is a production that should prompt deep and overwhelming empathy. In a time when empathy seems sorely lacking, FUN HOME does what good theater should do: it brings the human experience to life. It reminds us of our shared humanity and gives us space to celebrate and grieve, to laugh and to learn.