Fun Home

October 25, 2018

in Musicals, Plays

Musical (2013)

Music by Jeanine Tesori
Book and lyrics by Lisa Kron
Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel

Directed by Paul Daigneault
Musical Direction by Matthew Stern

Speakeasy Stage Company
Boston Center for the Arts
South End, Boston
October 19 – November 24, 2018

Choreography: Sarah Crane; Scenic Design: Cristina Todesco

With Amy Jo Jackson (Alison), Marissa Simeqi (Small Alison), Todd Yard (Bruce), Ellie van Amerongen (Medium Alison), Laura Marie Duncan (Helen), Lameron Levesque (Christian), Luke Gold (John), Tyler Simakh(Roy, Mark, Pete, Bobby Jeremy), Desiré Graham (Joan)

Marissa Simeqi as the young Alison in 'Fun Home' width=

Marissa Simeqi as the young Alison
in “Fun Home”
Photo: Nile Scott Studios
Courtesy of Speakeasy Stage Company

A nicely produced version of the Broadway hit based on a graphic novel about growing up gay in a household with a gay father who is in a heterosexual marriage.

Alison (Amy Jo Jackson), a middle-aged graphic novelist, is writing the account of her upbringing. Alison as a child (Marissa Simeqi) and Alison as a college-age young woman (Ellie van Amerongen) bring those realizations to life while the household of her parents and siblings swirl around Alison’s various manifestations. Most poignant and difficult is her relationship with her father, Bruce (Todd Yard), who wrestles with his own real demons.

The title, Fun Home, is a double-entendre that both encompasses the wry graphic novelist’s sardonic reflection on her own childhood and the pet name given in the family for the funeral home which Bruce owns. An obsessive old house buyer and renovator, an English teacher, and a funeral home director, as well as a closeted gay man, Bruce seems to have little time for anything else. Nonetheless, he has an endearing, though problematic, relation with his family.

Meanwhile, Alison is growing up gay herself. The young Alison sings vividly about her crush on the handy-woman who comes to the house, and then the college-aged Alison sings rhapsodically of her new-found college girlfriend, Joan (Desiré Graham).

There are some wonderful performances in this brief (100 minutes) production. The three actresses who play Alison are all very good in different ways, with clear, penetrating voices.

Most extraordinary is the performance of Marissa Simeqi as the young Alison. The show demands a lot of the role and Simeqi does an amazing job of conveying it through superb acting, singing and dancing; she delivers completely.

As Bruce, Todd Yard is heartfelt, and, as Helen, Alison’s mother, Laura Marie Duncan provides lyrical singing, particularly in her big solo Days and Days. Tyler Simahk, as Bruce’s young-man interest, also contributes a musically and dramatically effective complement to the goings on.

The musical direction by Matthew Stern is excellent. The score is frequently not straightforward and he and his band pull it together very effectively. He has also directed the vocalists carefully and with very good results.

The choreography by Sarah Crane, as well, is highly effective and adds significantly, especially in some of the sequences with the kids, to the staging.

The cast of 'Fun Home'

The cast of “Fun Home”
Photo: Nile Scott Studios
Courtesy of Speakeasy Stage Company

Fun Home is most interesting as one of the fairly recent psychologically exploratory contributions to the musical theater stage. It, along with any number of fairly recent Broadway hits like, for example, Next To Normal (2008), have tried to capitalize theatrically on a therapeutically-oriented narrative. This reassures audiences that real problems can surface on stages that seem for so long to have shimmered with less personally revealing themes.

This show relies heavily on lyrics that are resolutely straightforward (And your keys, oh, oh, your ring of keys!), while the music, though decidedly showbizzy, is somewhat more ornate and involved, more determined to be nuanced and complex. That contrast is striking, sometimes effective.

Whether the show won its Tony Award for Best Musical (2015) because of its daring to put forward its subject-matter about homosexuality, or because the unadorned lyrics mixed with the more ornate musical form was deemed enthralling, is hard to tell. The show represents an interesting phenomenon, whatever the cause of its celebrity. Noteworthy, in any case, is the attempt to bring the vivid recounting by a gay author about her gay father to the musical stage.

This production is indeed very well put together – it features excellent performances overall and some distinctively good ones.

– BADMan

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