Broadway Review: ‘Fun Home’

Fun Home review Broadway
Joan Marcus

New! Fresh! Original! We toss those kudos around a lot in this business. (It’s like calling everyone “darling.”) But “Fun Home” really earns the praise. Lisa Kron, who wrote both book and lyrics, assembles words and images in unexpected ways to dramatize the bittersweet memoir (based on the 2006 graphic novel by Alison Bechdel) of a grown woman remembering the troubled father she loved in spite of himself.  Sam Gold’s direction brings lucidity to the complex mechanics of staging a story that takes place in three time frames. And Jeanine Tesori’s haunting music doesn’t sound a bit like anyone else’s music.

This enormously likeable show was a popular hit when it opened at the Public Theater in 2013. Re-staged for the Circle in the Square (more precisely, theater in the round), the chamber musical benefits from being brought into closer proximity to the audience. That’s a huge advantage for a show with so many introspective, confessional songs. At the same time, the oddly configured stage necessitates much swiveling in place to take in the entire house. And David Zinn’s somewhat over-dressed stage features big set pieces (including a piano and a coffin) that pop up and down from trapdoors.

Nonetheless, the takeaway is that this show (a finalist for the Pulitzer) could be staged on the back of a truck and still break your heart.

At the age of 43, Alison (Beth Malone, in calm command of her pensive character) feels hopelessly stalled in her personal life and budding career as a professional cartoonist. Looking for inspiration in a box of mementos (a.k.a. “crap,” as she calls it), she becomes lost in childhood memories of growing up in a big Victorian house that doubled as a funeral home.

In the raucous “Come to the Fun Home,” young Alison (Sydney Lucas, brimming with talent) and her two brothers take control of a viewing room (complete with silk-lined casket) and rock out on a gleeful welcome to their strange household. But it’s not all fun and games living under the same roof with their domineering father, the funeral director, who is also a schoolteacher and an absolute fanatic about restoring his Victorian home.

Bruce Bechdel (Michael Cerveris) is a complex and morally ambiguous character, a tyrant and a bully who nonetheless loves his children and has a special bond with Alison. Cerveris fully embraces this complicated man and all his bewildering contradictions. It’s only now, as a grown woman, that his daughter finds the courage to make peace with the man.

At the drawing table where she’s composing her memoir, Alison keeps thinking up and discarding captions for her sketches. Especially this revealing one of her troubled father: “Caption: Dad and I both grew up in the same small Pennsylvania town. And he was gay and I was gay and he killed himself and I became a lesbian cartoonist.”

She always knew she’d have to write about him someday, to exorcise his troubled spirit, as well as her own ambivalent feelings about him. (“I can’t find my way through. Just like you. Am I just like you?”)

To answer that existential question, Kron and Tesori have Alison consulting the recollections of both the nine-year-old self played by Lucas (who won an Obie in the role) and Middle Alison (Emily Skeggs), the 19-year-old college freshman who finds her direction when she joyously identifies herself as a lesbian. Middle Allison has one of the best numbers in the show, “Changing My Major,” in which she pays exuberant tribute to Joan (a perfect character study from Roberta Colindrez), her first lover.

“Ring of Keys,” another trenchant musical number, is sung by the young tomboy Alison, who can’t articulate her sexual feelings but wholeheartedly declares her admiration for the butch lesbian who swaggers into a diner swinging a powerful set of keys.

But the narrative keeps circling back to Bruce, whose desperate dalliances with young men may have gone unnoticed by his young children but did not escape the notice of his wife, Helen (a shattering performance from Judy Kuhn).  In the absolutely wrenching “Days and Days,” Helen lets us know how unbearable it is to share her life with someone who is living a lie and can hardly bring himself to look at her.

Tesori saves her most devastating confessional number for Bruce’s own despairing epiphany at the end of the show. “I guess I’m older,” he reflects, in one of Kron’s most incisive lyrics, “and it’s harder when you’re older to begin.”


Broadway Review: 'Fun Home'

Circle in the Square; 740 seats; $150 top. Opened April 19, 2015. Reviewed April 16. Running time: ONE HOUR, 45 MIN.


A presentation by Fox Theatricals, Barbara Whitman, Carole Shorenstein Hays, Tom Casserly, Paula Marie Black, Latitude Link, Terry Schnuck / Jack Lane / The Forstalls, Nathan Vernon, Mint Theatricals, Elizabeth Armstrong, Jam Theatricals, Delman Whitney, and Kristin Caskey & Mike Isaacson of the Public Theater production of a musical in one act with book & lyrics by Lisa Kron, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, and music by Jeanine Tesori.


Directed by Sam Gold. Choreographed by Danny Mefford. Sets & costumes, Davis Zinn lighting, Ben Stanton; sound, Kai Harada; hair  & wigs, Paul Huntley; orchestrations, John Clancy; music director, Chris Fenwick; music coordinator, Antoine Silverman; production stage manager, Lisa Dawn Cave.


Michael Cerveris, Judy Kuhn, Beth Malone, Sydney Lucas, Emily Skeggs, Roberta Colindrez, Zell Steele Morrow, Joel Perez, Oscar Williams.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 9

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Great review. A couple of trivial points of correction, from someone who grew up in the same small town as Alison, who knew Alison and her family, and who had her father, Bruce, as one of his high school English teachers. The house did not double as a funeral home. The funeral home was a short distance (less than half a mile) away from the Bechdel family home. Also, the architectural style of the house is more properly described as Gothic revival, rather than ‘Victorian.’

    I would add that Bruce, notwithstanding his private agony, was a truly gifted high school English teacher, who knew how to bring to life and make interesting for high school kids everything from Homer, Chaucer and Shakespeare to Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner. Anybody who could manage to engage a classroom full of football jocks in a spirited discussion of The Great Gatsby certainly had something going for him! He was my teacher in the late ’70s, precisely at the time when the events in the play unfold, when his life was unraveling. The fact that he continued to be such an effective teacher during a time of such immense personal turmoil is something I find truly remarkable.

  2. This looks pretty fantastic, I have to say.

  3. Victoria Francis says:

    I have loved Theatre in the Round ever since 1954 when working at the The Players Ring Theatre of “Old Los Angeles.” FUN HOME is an exception show, and certainly will be an award winning production this year.

  4. Tom says:

    I understand the play is great but I hate theatre in the round. It turns every play on it into a defacto staged reading.

  5. robthom says:

    Well good for the little kids.
    Glad they’re having a fun time.
    But all this broadway play stuff looks like a living nightmare to sit through.

    Maybe theres a reason nobody cares about that stuff outside on new york

  6. Susanna says:

    It’s a quibble with your otherwise fine review, but I’m not sure it is accurate to suggest Zinn “over-dressed” the stage design given the ornate Bechdel family home as his source material. It needs to reflect Bruce’s passion for interiors. And good heavens, the staging at the Public was even more elaborate.

    • I agree, Susanna – I spent time in that house on occasion when the Bechdels lived there. Compared to the physical reality the set is trying to convey, I would say that the set was positively minimalist! This was a home impeccably finished and restored down to the last period detail — “ornate” doesn’t begin to describe Bruce’s fastidiousness in restoring and decorating the house. In retrospect, it almost seems as if Bruce hoped that if only he were diligent enough in creating perfect order in the physical world around him (or at least the appearance of it), he might ward off the chaos of his inner turmoil..

More Legit News from Variety