A review of the high-impact, 2015 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, which has arrived in a faithful tour at the 5th Avenue Theatre for its first Seattle run.
Do we ever truly know the parents who raised us? Or all the ways we are like them?
There are no neat answers in “Fun Home,” the high-impact, 2015 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, which has arrived in a faithful tour at the 5th Avenue Theatre for its first Seattle run.
One can tag this extraordinary show, based on cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s probing graphic memoir of the same title, a seriocomic lesbian coming-out story. Or a study of the effects of homophobia in Middle America, circa the 1970s. Or a profile of a complex father-daughter bond, in all its enduring mystery.
by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori. Through July 30, 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle; tickets from $36 (206-625-1900 or 5thavenue.org).
Adapted ingeniously and sensitively from Bechdel’s edgy and unsparing cartoon-book by playwright-lyricist Lisa Kron, gloriously scored by composer Jeanine Tesori and adroitly directed by Sam Gold, “Fun Home” is these things. And more. The multitextured strands of memory and ironic humor make it impossible to label it — as impossible as summing up one’s relationship with a difficult parent in a slogan.
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Kron’s version uses a common meta device uncommonly. There are three simultaneous versions of Bechdel onstage, as past and present entwine. The adult narrator Alison (played by Kate Shindle, a former Miss America no less, and an adept singer-actor) pulls no punches. She announces she’s gay, and her gay father (a teacher and part-time funeral director in small-town Pennsylvania) committed suicide in her teens.
The puzzle is why, what were the clues, how did she contribute or how could she have prevented it — guilty concerns of a bereaved survivor, complicated by the homosexuality that, in the case of her father, Bruce (fully realized by Robert Petkoff), dare not speak its name.
What buoys the show, and disarms the viewer, is the ways it captures Bruce’s intellect and charm as well as his pedantry, narcissism and anguish; family life that included love and conviviality as well as dark secrets. The grade-school-age Alison (delightful Carly Gold, alternating in the role with Jadyn Schwartz) and her two brothers romp through a gallows-humor TV commercial for their “fun home” — an ornate Victorian funeral parlor. (In David Zinn’s set, it functions as both a sketchy concept and a garish shrine to Bruce’s antiques addiction.)
In the mock-ad number, “Come to the Fun Home,” and in the Partridge Family-style opener “Welcome to our House on Maple Avenue,” Tesori concocts frothy tunes from midcentury pop culture steeped in manufactured innocence. But the score is character-driven, therefore eclectic. During the baroque strains of “Helen’s Etude,” Bruce seduces an ex-student in the parlor while Alison’s long-suffering mother, Helen (Susan Moniz), practices piano nearby. (She deserves a memoir of her own.)
The soaring “Ring of Keys” is a Sondheimian swell of self-discovery as the youngest Alison is drawn to a butch delivery woman. Yet the wittiest, most ecstatic tune in this vein is “Changing My Major.” Here, Abby Corrigan, utterly convincing as college-age Alison, blossoms before us from a bookish, bound-up kid into a young adult owning her sexual feelings for another woman for the first time. This leads to a bittersweet coming out to her parents, momentous in unexpected ways.
The music, particularly its lush, lyrical and finally tragic elements, is expertly arranged for a chamber orchestra which is (awkwardly and unnecessarily) partially visible onstage. That’s a small glitch, in a musical that does what the best intimate memoirs do: Plunge us into someone’s complicated life, and spur us to reconsider our own complicated back stories.