4 stars out of 4
Fun Home has won five Tony Awards, and it’s not hard to see why. This autobiographical examination of graphic novelist Alison Bechdel’s growing up and coming out is both specific to her lived experience and emotionally relevant to anyone with a heart and a family. Even if you think you’re not usually into musicals, you’re likely to fall for this one.
Driving the story are the superbly complex characters of Alison’s life. Alison, her brothers, and her exasperated mother live with her overbearing aesthete of a father-- he obsessively curates period furniture and lectures her on radical literature. He is also a closeted gay man, hiding affairs from the family in repressive small town Pennsylvania. Small Alison (Sage Elliott Harper) and Medium Alison (Hannah Starr) navigate the tempestuous environment created by a deeply conflicted parent while adult Alison looks on, struggling to turn her experiences into captions for her sketches. Adult Alison watches much of the action unfold, but some of the show’s best moments arise from the interaction between her and her younger selves: a perfectly synchronized swoon onto a bed when she first falls in love, or an over-the-shoulder reading of Young Alison’s journal entry: “Dad showed me a dead body today. Went swimming. Had egg salad for lunch!”
The music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Lisa Kron gift the audience delightful, memorable songs. One hilarious number, “Welcome to the Fun Home,” sees the Bechdel siblings jumping out of a casket and performing an ad for their family’s funeral home (the nickname is the source of the show’s name)-- an ode to children’s ingenuity. Another, “I’m Changing My Major to Joan,” is a hilarious evocation of sexual awakening. The harmonies are lovely and the voices are spot-on. At one point, the vibratto of the cello in the live band perfectly mirrors the awkward tension and tumultuous feelings that go unspoken between Mr. Bechdel and Roy, a boy he likes. Adult Alison (Danni Smith) shines in “Telephone Wire”, a perfect embodiment of that same painful tension, when you say everything except what you need to.
With smart music, a capable cast, and a deep dive into what it means to know our families and ourselves, Fun Home is both entertaining and acutely stirring.
Victory Gardens Theater presents Fun Home, with music written by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics written by Lisa Kron and directed by Gary Griffin. Fun Home runs September 19 – November 12, 2017 at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue.