Aspen Times Weekly theater review: ‘Fun Home’ on Broadway
Beth Malone is on stage for nearly the entirety of “Fun Home,” the new Broadway musical based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir about growing up gay with a dad in the closet. But Malone – the part-time Snowmass Villager and Theatre Aspen and Crystal Palace alum now nominated for a Tony Award — spends most of the time watching the action, drawing, and talking out captions for the scenes playing out before her.
An early caption she comes up with is, “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.”
That sums up the plot of “Fun Home” and sort of spoils the ending. But this remarkable, moving yet unsentimental show doesn’t rely on its big dramatic turns – Alison leaping out of the closet, her father stepping into oncoming traffic — for its emotional heft. This is a Broadway musical without melodrama.
“Fun Home” plays out in non-linear fashion, following the winding path of memory as it charts the emotional landscape of a grown woman trying to capture her troubled father on the page. From her drawing table, Alison looks back on herself as a child, played by a buoyant Sydney Lucas, and as a college freshman, played by Emily Skeggs. (All three Alisons have earned Tony nods, along with Michael Cerveris for his complex turn as Alison’s father and Judy Kuhn as his long-suffering wife).
The captivating songs in “Fun Home” hit a sweet spot somewhere between rock and show-tune. In “Ring of Keys,” Young Alison is in awe of a butch deliverywoman — the set of keys on her belt a totem of something she can’t yet articulate. Middle Alison emerges from under the covers with Joan, her first girlfriend, declaring, “I’m changing my major to Joan” in “Changing My Major,” an endearing new addition to Broadway’s litany of ain’t-love-grand anthems.
Adult Alison rifles through childhood mementos for inspiration as she draws her childhood in the big Victorian that doubled as the Bechdel Funeral Home — nicknamed “the fun home” by the Bechdel kids and honored with their rowdy anthem “Come to the Fun Home.”
Malone’s big musical moment comes late, in the bittersweet song “Telephone Wire,” for which the grown-up Alison steps into the action for the first time – sitting and singing beside her father on a drive, shortly before his death. Malone’s subtle performance is largely one of small gestures – her mannerisms match Skeggs and Lucas, sometimes simultaneously – and of setting the show’s tragicomic tone. My Playbill tells me it’s the first lead lesbian character in Broadway history.
Her father is complicated – domineering yet doting, reckless while bedding young men yet painstaking in restoring the family home. “Fun Home,” with a book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori, doesn’t take short-cuts with broadly drawn characters or stereotypes. All of the Bechdels contain multitudes.
The intense character studies in “Fun Home” offer the weighty stuff you would normally look to drama for – so if you’re looking for song-and-dance escapism, look elsewhere on Broadway this summer.
Performed intimately and in-the-round at the Circle in the Square, “Fun Home” comes in at a muscular 100 minutes, without an intermission. There isn’t an extra word or note in it. Which is not to say “Fun Home” is perfect, but it may be close to it.
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.