Atypical Musical ‘Fun Home’ Opens in Los Angeles [Review]

Fun Home

The national tour of “Fun Home,” the 2015 multiple Tony Award-winning show, opened this week at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. The atypical musical arrives at a time of Trumped up awareness of intolerance and LGBTQ rights to illustrate the impact lack of acceptance of oneself and one’s past can have.

Based on cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, features textured, interesting characters in an emotional production. The adult Alison character (Kate Shindle) succinctly summed up the story: “My dad and I both grew up in the same, small Pennsylvania town. He was gay, and I was gay. And he…killed himself. And I…became a lesbian cartoonist. That is an oversimplification of a nuanced, well-acted show about coming out and coming to grips with the past.

While it won Best Musical that year, it is not a likely to appeal to classicists looking for Rogers & Hammerstein or the next ballad to bound from Broadway to the pop charts. But for those looking for a memorable play that offers some of the script via semi-spoken songs that carry much of the emotional baggage, “Fun Home” is a rare evening at the theater. This show by Jeanine Tesori (music composer) and Lisa Kron (book and lyrics writer) adroitly balances music and drama, leaning more toward the latter.

One caution: While the cast does feature some children, the number of youngsters in the audience opening night was surprising. The name may be “Fun Home,” but parents toting kids clearly did not know the title was short for Fun-eral Home. (As sung in the rollicking “Come to the Fun Home,” “You know our mourners, so satisfied. They like … our formaldehyde. Yeah! Here at the Fun Home.”

The Dys-Fun-ctional Family

Plot wise, the title could also have been short for dys-Fun-ctional Home. Dysfunctional families are an often-mined subject, but what is presented here in a deeply personal story. This family life in a 1970s, small-town Pennsylvania, residence/funeral home presents its inhabitants as outwardly polished and shined, but inwardly repressed and emotionally stilted.

The show focuses on Alison, performed by three actors. The eldest, played by Shindle, narrates the show; she lurks onstage throughout the production as scenes of her life are played out. Young Alison (Alessandra Baldacchino) squirms when forced into a party dress and repeatedly removes her barrettes – mannerisms that could easily be interpreted as tomboyish. Medium Alison (the superb Abby Corrigan) is a nerdy undergrad, who realizes she is a lesbian and explores her first same-sex relationship with self-assured Joan (Karen Eilbacher).

Fun HomeAlison’s self-acceptance is very different from her closeted father (Robert Petkoff), who seems to be a pillar of the community serving as funeral home director, high school English teacher, antique hunter, and home restorer with a sparkle and shine. The character wanted to be a good husband and father, but the exemplary house and home is all an illusion. He has transgressions with a yard-worker, former student, and others (all played by Robert Hager), but cannot break free. As Alison wryly notes in “Maps,” she can draw a circle on a map to show him where “you lived your life inside.” The songs also points out, “Four miles from our door, I-80 ran from shore to shore, on its ways from the Castro to Christopher Street.” This is symbolic of the father’s inability to take the road to accepting his homosexuality.

The father’s dalliances were overlooked for years by his long-suffering wife, Helen (Susan Moniz). Her song “Days and Days” is the sorrowful acknowledgement of the bargain she made to build a life with her husband. She urges her daughter, “Don’t you come back here. I didn’t raise you to give away your days, Like me.”

Noteworthy Numbers

As a musical, “Fun Home” may be atypical, but there are some noteworthy numbers. The early showstopper, “Come to the Fun Home,” is a faux commercial jingle for the Bechdel Funeral Home. It is performed in and around a casket with gusto by a charming Baldacchino with Lennon Nate Hammond and Pierson Salvador as her siblings.

The second song that stands out is “Changing My Major.” After Alison has her first lesbian sexual experience, Corrigan sings “I’m changing my major to Joan” with winning charm and a sense of wonder.

Despite its Tony Awards, the atypical musical, “Fun Home,” is not for everyone. But the national tour cast is outstanding in the production and the show – an intermission-free 100 minutes – is great theater. It will be at the Ahmanson in Los Angeles through April 1. Later that month, the “Fun Home” tour continues in Des Moines, Iowa; Pittsburgh, Penn.; Washington, D.C.; Houston, Texas; and other cities before returning to Southern California for the first week in August in Costa Mesa.

Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss

Sources:
Performance Feb. 22
Center Theatre Group:
New York Times: ‘Fun Home,’ the Musical, Takes Alison Bechdel’s Life to Broadway
FunHomeBroadway.com

Photo by Joan Marcus of (L-R) Alessandra Baldacchino as ‘Small Alison’ with Pierson Salvador and Lennon Nate Hammond as her siblings in “Fun Home,” courtesy of Center Theatre Group.
Photo by Joan Marcus of Kate Shindle, Abby Corrigan and Alessandra Baldacchino as Alison at different ages in “Fun Home,” courtesy of Center Theatre Group.

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