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Sunday, January 08, 2017

Fun Home

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Fun Home, the winner of the 2015 Best Musical Tony, at the Smith Center here in Vegas. It's a very small, intimate musical, indicating its origins as an Off-Broadway production at the Public Theater, but it packs an emotional wallop.

Based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, Fun Home is structured as a memory play. The contemporary Bechdel looks back on two periods in her life. She grew up in an unusual household, with a father that was not only a closeted gay man, but also a man of peculiar, demanding ways. A part-time mortician (the kids call their home the "Fun Home" as an abbreviation of funeral home) and high school English teacher, Bechdel's relationship with her is problematic, to say the least.

The first period is of Alison at about ten, when she and her two brothers make the best of living with a father who is difficult and a mother who is withdrawn and passively chooses to accept his affairs with mostly younger men. The other period is when she goes to college and realizes she is a lesbian, finds her first girlfriend, and undergoes the tragedy of her father's suicide.

While the show is very powerful, is very funny at times. The small Alison (played very well by Alessandra Baldacchino) has one of the best numbers, "Ring of Keys" (a stereotype of lesbians is that they carry massive key rings) after seeing a very butch woman and feeling a comradeship. The children also have a lovely number called "Welcome to Fun Home," in which they imagine a commercial for their business, "with ample parking down the street." Small Alison has an affinity for The Partridge Family, and when the going gets bad she imagines them all singing a happy song "Raincoat of Love."

Medium Alison, at Oberlin College, attempts to go the Gay Student Union, meets a fully out lesbian, and embraces her new found identity. She writes her parents to tell them the news and is happy with her father's acceptance and her mother's reluctance to talk about it. At the end of the story, she takes a drive with her father (and hear there is a time bend and the adult Alison takes her place) and she laments, in "Telephone Wire," that she can't talk to him. The show ends with the audience in tears as the three Alisons join each other for the final number, "Fly Away."

Directed by Sam Gold, the original director, has an excellent cast, with Kate Shindle (a former Miss America) as Alison, Abby Corrigan as Medium Alison and Robert Petkoff is particularly strong as the father. The music is by Jeanine Tesori and the book and lyrics by Lisa Kron (it was the first show to win the Tony written exclusively by women).

I see Fun Home having a long future of being performed by colleges and forward-thinking high schools for years to come. My girlfriend, who has a lesbian niece, lamented that her niece couldn't see it. It will be meaningful to anyone in the LGBT community, or anyone who feels like an outsider.

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