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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Circle in the Square


  Beth Malone and Emily Skeggs/ Ph: Jenny Anderson

To say that Fun Home is the best new musical of last season (when it premiered at the Public Theater) or this season (now that it’s transferred to Broadway’s Circle in the Square) is still an understatement.

Directed by Sam Gold, with music by Jeanine Tesori (Violet, Caroline, or Change) and lyrics and book by Lisa Kron (Well), Fun Home is a thoroughly dynamic piece that is just as emotionally piercing, good-humored and enjoyable as it is sharp, focused and culturally conscious. It belongs on the list of the smartest, most innovative musicals written in the Sondheim tradition of the past decade, such as Spring Awakening, Next to Normal and The Scottsboro Boys.

Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel/memoir, Alison (Beth Malone), a lesbian cartoonist in her early 40s, looks back on growing up in 1970s suburban Pennsylvania and explores her complicated relationship with her father (Michael Cerveris), an English teacher, funeral home director and home restorer – and also a closeted gay man who eventually committed suicide. A multilayered memoir, Alison observes versions of herself from childhood (Sydney Lucas) and her late teens (Emily Skeggs), reconstructing how her father would initiate relationships with young men in the neighborhood and randomly lash out at family members out of frustration.

In an unforgettable moment, the young, tomboyish Alison notices a butch-looking woman inside a diner and expresses the kinship she feels with this woman in the beautiful song “Keys” (pointing out the ring of keys the woman carries). In another, Alison goes from watching The Partridge Family to dreaming that her family can share in the happiness she sees on television.

Unlike the Off-Broadway production, the show is now staged in the round, which adds intimacy (making you feel as if you are eavesdropping on the family) and reflects the show’s nonlinear style (with memories from different time periods in constant collision).

The performances are extraordinary all around, from Lucas’ excitement and Skeggs’ anxiousness to Cerveris’ intensity and Judy Kuhn’s sad sense of resignation as Alison’s mother, who has tried to hold the family together in spite of her husband’s erratic behavior.

Back when Fun Home opened Off-Broadway, it was generally hoped that it would transfer to Broadway, but it was no sure thing. Who would be willing to invest in a musical with such a convoluted setup and difficult subject matter? Now, not only is the musical doing sell-out business on Broadway (thanks partially to being in a small theater), it even beat out An American in Paris for the Tony Award for Best Musical. Fun Home is an affirmation that under the right circumstances, the best work really can rise to the top.

It is also a testament to the extraordinary work that has been done at the Public Theater in recent years. From new musicals like Fun Home and Hamilton to community-oriented projects like the Mobile Shakespeare Unit (which brings Shakespeare to prisons and homeless shelters) to the Public Works initiative (where hundreds of people from all five boroughs can take part in a performance at the Delacorte Theatre), I am hard pressed to think of any theater company making a bigger contribution to New York and the theater in general. 


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