Broadway Musical ‘Fun Home’ Cracks Smiles, Breaks Hearts

Broadway Musical ‘Fun Home’ Cracks Smiles, Breaks Hearts

The “fun” in Fun Home is short for “funeral,” in case you were wondering if this Off-Broadway-turned-Broadway musical is a comedy about a super happy family and their super happy home. Because it very much is not.

Although there are scenes that make you feel so giddy you can’t help but smile, Fun Home’s overarching story revolves around Alison Bechdel’s struggle to piece together where life went so wrong that her father committed suicide shortly after she came out while she was in college. Sounds depressing, I know, especially since this musical is based off of Bechdel’s graphic novel/memoir. However, sometimes seeing something so sad makes for a highly invigorating theatergoing experience. If the thundering standing ovation the cast and orchestra earned at the end of the performance I saw is any indication, Fun Home looks to be one of the biggest hits of the season.

During the show we see Alison at various ages, often at the same time. There is Young Alison (Sydney Lucas), a bright-eyed young girl who wants to play airplane, likes drawing, and finds herself fancying the look of a butch delivery woman. Middle Alison (Emily Skeggs) is a college freshman who craves her parents’ attention and respect, and falls hard for Gay Union member Joan (Roberta Colindrez). Alison (Beth Malone) is also portrayed as a 43-year-old lesbian cartoonist—both self-identifiers her father never took seriously when he was alive. It’s hard watching a family fall apart, yet so easy because of how great this production is.

The talented actresses playing Alison are joined by an equally amazing ensemble, which includes Broadway veterans Judy Kuhn and Michael Cerveris as Alison’s parents, Helen and Bruce. Kuhn (best known by my generation as the voice of Pocahontas in the Disney film of the same name) heartbreakingly plays a woman stuck in a life of soul-crushing marital hardships. Cerveris’s Bruce is selfish but conflicted; putting his own wants and needs before those of his family in a dance of self-destructive steps. Like Alison, you’ll want to understand why he did what he did but answers are not really there for the taking. As much as I disliked Bruce, his maniacal solo “Edges of the World” brought me to tears because I realized he would never be as strong as his daughter. Bruce gives up whereas Alison pushes forward. It is her strength despite internal and external conflicts that makes Alison a leading lady-loving-lady in her own eyes and ours.

Though the Bechdel house is not exactly fun all the time, a “Fun Home” does exist and is the funeral home run by Bruce. It’s also the location of my favorite song from the show. Young Alison and her brothers (played with unwavering energy by Zell Steele Morrow and Oscar Williams) dance on a display coffin while crooning about the Fun Home’s amenities as they record their own advertisement to drum up more business. “Come to the Fun Home” is so wrong that it’s completely right and offers the audience a chance to laugh among the more somber content. That being said… come to the Fun Home. Those Bechdel kids know what they’re talking about.

Fun Home is performed in the round (and without intermission) at the Circle in the Square Theatre on W 50th St. Now in previews, the musical officially opens April 19th.

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