Richly emotional yet rigorously unsentimental – this quality is one of the things I like most about the remarkable musical Fun Home. It’s a hallmark of lesbian American literature from Gertrude Stein and Willa Cather onward, and something with which I’m very comfortable (my earliest mentors in the theatre were lesbian writers very much in that tradition-breaking tradition). Add to this bookwriter/lyricist Lisa Kron’s astringent wit, and the surging music by Jeanine Tesori, and you have a show that deals with longing and death that, while sometimes dark, is never depressing.
Fun Home is based on cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel, in which Alison tries to make some sense of the connections between her father’s closeted homosexuality, and her own more overtly expressed lesbianism. That emotional but unsentimental quality was already there in Bechdel’s book – to be expected from the author of a comic strip called Dykes to Watch Out For (a personal favorite of mine for decades). It’s a sensibility that Lisa Kron definitely shares: there has rarely been a better fit of adaptor to adapted.
If sentiment comes in anywhere, it’s in Tesori’s music. The way her music pushes urgently and sincerely at Kron’s mordantly funny lyrics produces a truly exciting tension, not to mention Tesori’s best musical theatre writing to date.
Three women actors play Alison at various stages of her life and they’re all marvelous: Beth Malone as the introspective and retrospective adult Alison, Emily Skeggs as the girl-crazy college-age Alison, and Sydney Lucas as the tomboy-becoming-butch young Alison. Michael Cerveris is pitch perfect as the closeted Bruce, capturing both the love of beauty and the ultimately destructive perfectionism of this very complex man. Highly recommended.
For tickets, click here.
To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.