Review: Fun Home (Broadway in Chicago)

| November 7, 2016

Alessandra Baldacchino and Kathe Shindle star as Small Alison and Alison in Fun Home           
  

Fun Home

By Jeanine Tesori (music), Lisa Kron (book, lyrics)
Based on novel by Alison Bechdel
Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph (map)
thru Nov 13  |  tix: $25-$113  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
     


    
  

‘Home’ a moving testament to sheer, enthralling storytelling

  

Kate Shindle, Abby Corrigan and Alessandra Baldacchino in Fun Home, Broadway Chicago

    
Broadway in Chicago presents
    
Fun Home

Review by Catey Sullivan

There are no leggy chorines in Fun Home, no spangly kick lines, and no epic historical events. The musical, inspired by Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel, doesn’t need flashy fishnets or bombastic, larger-than-life plotlines. Composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist/book writer Lisa Kron’s adaptation has more emotion-per-measure than many larger, showier musicals have in their entirety.

Alessandra Baldacchino, Pierson Salvador and Lennon Nate Hammond in Fun Home, Broadway ChicagoFun Home is a musical with a point that’s delivered through sheer, enthralling storytelling and without an ounce if didacticism: If you’re of the mind that LGBT issues are mostly a matter of civil rights, Fun Home will show you otherwise. The show is a wrenching illustration of how living in the closet can literally kill you.

There’s no need here for the bells and whistles that are so often found in musicals. Instead, director Sam Gold unearths what’s remarkable and epic within the lives of everyday people who could be your neighbors. As it shows Alison growing up the daughter of a closeted suburban funeral home director, Bechdel’s musical memoir is bursting with triumph and tragedy.

Set during the 1970s through the present, Fun Home delves into a world where being true to yourself could mean the destruction of everything and everyone you love. It’s not a spoiler to note that Bechdel’s father commits suicide at the end of the production – Alison (Kate Shindle) announces as much in the first scene. Her father was gay, she tells the audience, and after decades of deception, Bruce Bechdel jumped into the path of a speeding truck.

Fun Home flicks back and forth in time to reveal the home where Alison grew up, following her from her prepubescent days as a dress-and-barrette-hating tomboy to her sexual awakening as an undergrad at Oberlin College.

It’s also not a spoiler to note that Alison turned out alright. She’s a renowned cartoonist whose “Dykes to Watch Out For” stands as both an innovation and a classic in the world of cartoons. She’s also the author of the famed Bechdel test, a simple quiz that starkly shows just how prevalent the male gaze is in movies, television, books, and just about every other manifestation of culture. There are only two questions in the test:

  1. Does this book/movie/show feature at least two women who talk to each other?

  2. Do they talk to each other about something besides men?

You might think that somewhere between the invention of the written word to the advent of CGI effects, the planet’s cultural influencers would have raised their Bechdel grade point average to something higher than a D minus. You’d be wrong. Apply the test to anything you care to, the answers are apt to be “no” on one or, most likely, both counts.

Fun Home, as you might expect, passes with rainbow flag flying colors. Still, there’s more to the musical than a female voice that doesn’t belong to an ingénue trying to find her handsome prince. If you’ve ever been hurt by a loved one – or frustrated, or enraged, or completely baffled by a loved one – Fun Home will hit you straight in the heart.

Alessandra Baldacchino and Kathe Shindle star as Small Alison and Alison in Fun Home Kate Shindle and Robert Petkoff star as Alison and Bruce in Fun Home, Broadway ChicagoKaren Eilbacher and Abby Corrigan star as Joan and Medium Alison in Fun Home Susan Moniz stars as Helen in Fun Home, Broadway in ChicagoAlessandra Baldacchino and Robert Petkoff as Small Alison and Bruce in Fun Home

Fun Home veers between Alison’s childhood in the 1970s to the day her father killed himself while she was freshman in college. Adult Alison is played by former Miss America Kate Shindle, who virtually disappears into the gender-nonconforming character. Adult Alison’s narration links the past with the present in Fun Home, but Shindle is far more than mere narrator. In adult Alison, you can see both the hard-won peace of mind that comes with self-acceptance, and the ragged, painful edges that will probably always sting.

“Medium Alison” is played by Abby Corrigan, who radiates the sense of wonder and innocence and utter ecstasy that comes with realizing who you are after years of confusion. Medium Alison totters out of the closet in college, landing with both feet into a love affair that frees her from trying to fit into a world where girls who don’t love dresses are seen as shameful freaks. In “Changing My Major,” Corrigan nails the overwhelming thrall of being in love/lust for the first time and all the awkwardness and giddiness that entails.

As Small Alison, Alessandra Baldacchino is adorable without being cloying or cutesy, and with “Ring of Keys” unleashes a voice that will make you recall every sky-high hope you had as a child. In one spot-on scene, Small Alison is mesmerized by “The Partridge Family,” the family that most children of the 1970s yearned to be adopted by. Her father turns the TV off, mid-song.

As Alison’s father Bruce, Michael Winther (who went on for Robert Petkoff at last Saturday’s matinee) is impressive as both a tragic figure and an anti-hero. Winther depicts a man who tries – mightily – to play by the rules. He marries, has children, joins civic groups. He never really stands a chance though. Fun Home takes place in the 1970s, so Bruce came of age in the 1940s and ‘50s, when “homosexuality” was officially classified as the disease of deviants and being out generally meant living in exile. In the song “Edges of the World,” Bruce is literally engulfed in shadow, darkness that signifies the final blackout he brings on himself.

Karen Eilbacher, Abby Corrigan, Robert Petkoff and Susan Moniz in Fun Home

Winther’s Bruce is no martyr. He’s despicable as much as he is empathetic. He’s sometimes brutally unkind to Alison, telling her that she’ll be an outcast and an object of ridicule if she doesn’t put on a dress and color inside the lines. Winther makes the flaws and the virtues apparent, creating a family man who – like so many family men – deeply hurts the family he cherishes.

As Bruce’s wife Helen, Chicago’s Susan Moniz lends her glorious mezzo to a character who manages – barely – not to crack under the mountain of lies that has accumulated day by day until their weight becomes crushing. Helen’s reaction to Alison’s coming out is ignorant, heart-breaking and understandable. This is, after all, a woman whose only experience with gays has been a husband who, time and again, humiliated her and nearly ruined her family.

For all the darkness, Fun Home is lit with humor. As Alison’s rambunctious little brothers, Lennon Nate Hammond and Pierson Salvador are responsible for much of it. Their fake funeral home commercial “Come to the Fun Home,” (performed with Baldacchino) is a highlight of the production.

In the opening scene of Fun Home, Bruce speaks about his love of polishing silver, of watching the tarnish melt away to reveal the luster below. Alison embodies that metaphor, growing into a life that isn’t shrouded in corrosive darkness. Her father wasn’t so fortunate. Their intertwined story is both harrowing and hopeful. Needless to say, it is also one of the rare stories that aces the Bechdel test.

  
Rating: ★★★★
  
   

Fun Home continues through November 13th at Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph (map).  Tickets are $25-$113, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online through Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at BroadwayinChicago.com(Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes, no intermission)

Lennon Nate Hammond, Pierson Salvador, Karen Eilbacher, Abby Corrigan, Kate Shindle, Robert Petkoff, Susan Moniz, Alessa

Photos by Joan Marcus 


  

artists

cast

Kate Shindle (Alison), Alessandra Baldacchino (Small Alison), Carly Gold (Small Alison alternate), Robert Petkoff (Bruce), Abby Corrigan (Medium Alison), Susan Moniz (Helen), Pierson Salvador (Christian), Lennon Nate Hammond (John), Karen Eilbacher (Joan), Robert Hager (Roy, Mark, Pete, Bobby Jeremy), Michael Winther (u/s Bruce), Amanda Naughton (u/s Helen, Alison), Sofia Trimarchi (u/s Small Alison, Christian, John), Caroline Murrah (u/s Medium Alison, Joan), Anthony Fortino (u/s Roy, Mark, Pete, Bobby Jeremy).

orchestra

Micah Young (music director, keyboards), Alex Harrington (asst. music director, keyboards), Jakob Reinhardt (guitars), Alan Stevens Hewitt (basses), Philip Varricchio (reeds), John Doing (drums, percussion), Jocelyn Davis-Beck (cello), Dominic Johnson (violin, viola)

behind the scenes

Sam Gold (director), Alison Bechdel (source material), Danny Mefford (choreography), David Zinn (set and costume design), Ben Stanton (lighting design), Kai Harada (sound design), Chris Fenwick (music supervisor), John Clancy (orchestrations), Micah Young (music director), Alex Harrington (associate music director), Rick Caroto (wig and hair design), Antoine Silverman (music coordinator), Billy Jay Stein, Strange Cranium (electronic music programming), Kaye-Houston Music, Anne Kaye, Doug Houston (music copying), Jim Carnahan (casting), Portia Krieger (asst. director), Mary Giattino (asst. choreographer), Anthony Fortino (dance captain), Juniper Street Productions (production management), Shawn Pennington (production stage manager), Geoff Maus (stage manager), Heather Englander (asst. stage manager), Buist Bickley (production properties supervisor), Broadway Booking Office NYC (press, marketing), 321 Theatrical Management (general management), Joan Marcus (photographer)

Karen Eilbacher and Abby Corrigan star as Joan and Medium Alison in Fun Home, Broadway ChicagoKate Shindle stars as Alison in Fun Home the Musical, Broadway in Chicago

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Category: 2016 Reviews, Broadway in Chicago, Catey Sullivan, Jeanine Tesori, Musical, National Tours, Oriental Theatre (Ford)

Comments (2)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Hmmmm…

  2. Anonymous says:

    Saw Fun Home yesterday at the Oriental. Enjoyed watching / listening to it, but am somewhat bewildered / annoyed by the unfailingly fawning reviews of it. There is, to be perfectly blunt, not much to it. Near the beginning of the play the narrator says something like “I’m gay, so was my dad, he killed himself, and I became a lesbian cartoonist” (followed by big laughs from the audience, like that was a comedic gem) . That about sums the play up, and the next 90 minutes, while pleasant enough, don’t really add much. The ideas in the book might be complex, as might the book itself. But much of the play is pretty simplistic and clumsy. Reviewers go on about the heroine “exploring her budding sexuality at Oberlin College”. The actual events of the play ?Heroine says “I don’t think I’m attracted to women.” Other woman kisses heroine. Heroine leaps on the woman who kissed her, straddling her with her arms and legs. There might as well be cartoon sound effects.

    Basically, this feels like one of those situations where we’re supposed to find characters in a play fascinating simply because they’re gay. 25 years ago, maybe. Today? Not so much. Now, I recognize that gays are disproportionately represented in the creative fields, so I get why – and am ok with – a disproportionate number of plays having gay themes. But GIVE us something.

    Another reviewer raves about the heroine tackling the complex issue of coming out at college. Seriously? She tells her parents in a letter, then complains that her parents haven’t responded to her letter. When she talks to her dad on the phone, she says “Are you going to talk to me about my letter? If you’re not going to talk to me about my letter, put Mom on the phone.” It’s not really doing the topic justice.

    Anyways, just my 2 cents worth. I’m a guy who looks at actors as entertainers, not artists. This play was reasonably entertaining, but it didn’t elevate me, enervate me, inspire me, thrill me, enlighten me, broaden my horizons, teach me anything, give me a different perspective on anything, etc. It all proceeded pretty straightforwardly from a one-sentence writing assignment that could have been given to me in high school (contrast experiences of dyke daughter in current era to those of closeted, married homosexual dad”.