Attending the national touring production of Fun Home was, to put it bluntly, an emotional kick in the stomach. It had already been an emotional week, full of highs and lows, and this was one more thing to toss onto the ever-growing pile of feelings.
It is a beautiful show that was beautifully performed.
The cast was excellent. Each gave her/his character depth and clarity. I would normally name the stand out performers – the ones who really shine and carry the show. But, in this case, I can’t pin-point one or even a few. Every cast member was strong and pulled her/his weight, working as a true ensemble. The three actors who played Alison – Kate Shindle, Abby Corrigan, and Alessandra Baldacchino – were fantastic. Robert Petkoff and Susan Moniz, who played Bruce and Helen (Alison’s parents), gave performances that just broke my heart with every scene. Karen Eilbacher, as Joan, and Robert Hager, as multiple characters, were excellent in their supporting roles. Lennon Nate Hammond and Pierson Salvador, as Alison’s brothers, were fun and memorable. In all, this was just a very strong cast.
The show moves back and forth through time, through Alison’s memories of her childhood, her family, and, particularly, her father. Fun Home is so much more than a coming-of-age or coming out tale. It’s both of those things, yes, but it’s so much more. The story focuses on this one particular family, but in doing so, shows us a representation of all families. There’s something here that will tug at the heart of every audience member. For me, it wasn’t so much the coming out story as it was the relationship between Alison and her father. That need to be seen. The need to be loved. The need to be valued. But always seeming to fall short. It was the relationship between Alison and her mother. The knowing as a child that there are secrets, that there are troubling events taking place. Learning about those secrets as an adult and suddenly experiencing a fundamental shift in how you understand your mother. Not to mention how the child, now an adult, has to re-examine her life up to that point based on this newly discovered information.
There’s a lot there to feel. I admit to “ugly crying” a couple of times during the show.
The music is just magnificent. I’ve listened to the soundtrack a few times over the last year – and I’ve always liked it. Now, putting it fully in context of the production, I have a whole new perspective. Jeanine Tesori’s music and Lisa Kron’s lyrics serve the show beautifully. The songs are wonderfully varied and match the emotional tone of that particular point of the show. Many of the songs are reminiscent of Sondheim in their complexity. And each of the actors held up their end of the bargain by performing them flawlessly. I’ve listened to the soundtrack a couple of times over the last 24 hours and it has taken on a whole new level of meaning for me. “Telephone Wire” has me bursting into tears every time.
The original Broadway production was performed in-the-round and was adapted for performance on the proscenium stage. I would have liked to have seen the Broadway production. I feel as though the show is more effective in-the-round. Obviously, I can’t say this for certain. But it just feels that way to me. Don’t get me wrong, the production was very, very good on the proscenium stage. I’m not saying that it wasn’t. I just feel that in-the-round is a more intimate staging. And this is an intimate show.
Fun Home definitely had a profound impact on me. I’m actually not sure if, emotionally, I could handle seeing it again. (Based on my reactions now when listening to the soundtrack.) As it does with Alison, as she narrates her life experiences, the story brings up feelings and memories for me that are raw and sometimes painful. But, ultimately, through the pain there is also a sense of peace. There’s a sense of reckoning. Bringing these thoughts and emotions to the surface may help me to unpack a bit more and help me understand and reconcile some of my own childhood experiences.
After the curtain call, Kate Shindle – who played Alison and who is also president of Actors’ Equity Association – gave an announcement that they would be collecting donations for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. During her announcement, she made mention of the recent election results and how BCEFA is so essential during these “uncertain times.” She mentioned that artists are often galvanized during these times to use their art to fight back. “Just think of how much wonderful art the next 4 years will bring.”