This review is written by my husband, who attended the Fun Home premiere with our daughter.
FUN HOME, the winner of the 2015 Tony Award for best musical, opens with childhood playfulness, moves to celebrate first love, and closes with the unbearable shame and bitterness of middle-aged regrets. Every minute of the one-act show, now playing at the National Theatre through May 13, is captivating.
Based on the 2006 memoir by graphic novelist Alison Bechdel, Fun Home opens with Alison (Kate Shindle) narrating her memories come to life, first involving Small Alison (Alessandra Baldacchino), a girl of about 10 who chafes under her overbearing father, Bruce (Robert Petkoff), an English teacher and owner of the family’s mortuary business. Those memories alternate with scenes involving Middle Alison (Abby Corrigan), a college student who struggles to come out as a lesbian — and who must also deal with the newfound discovery that her father is gay.
Watch clips from the national tour:
(While Helen’s lament is one of the rawest emotional motions of the show, Fun Home suffers for never explaining Helen’s reasons for staying with Bruce despite his many gay affairs. Bechdel did, however, center her second memor, “Are You My Mother?” on Helen.)
The show, however, contains moments of joy as well. Middle Alison’s coming out at college involves a touching series of moments with Joan (Karen Eilbacher), whose confident sexiness contrasts perfectly with Middle Alison’s awkwardness. After the two women first sleep together (they remain clothed onstage, and the staging of their encounter is far from explicit), Middle Alison climbs out of bed, exuberantly skips in place, and sings, on behalf of anyone who has ever fallen in love with anyone else, “I’m changing my major to Joan.”
Fun Home is, somewhat surprisingly, the first Tony winner for best musical written by women, Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, who also won Tonys for the show. Bechtel, Tesori, and Kron have created a perfect show for older teens and their families willing to explore issues of falling in love and the choices that people make to come out of the closet or to stay in it and live a tragic life of lies.
I received two complimentary press tickets to FUN HOME at the National Theatre. All opinions are my own.