Fun Home is the Little Engine That Surprised the Heck Out of Everyone. Despite its lack of star power or big dance numbers, it beat out more likely contenders including Something Rotten and American in Paris to take home this year’s Tony for Best Musical. More startling, the book is based on an autobiographical graphic novel about a woman coming to terms with her sexuality as well as that of her father. Not exactly the most obvious source material for show tunes. Consequently, I arrived at the performance ready to be blown out of the water. Instead I was mildly splashed. To be sure, the piece is thought provoking, but there’s also something remarkably flat about the experience.
The structure of Fun Home is extremely inventive. The main character, Alison Bechdel, is portrayed by three profoundly talented actresses. Beth Malone plays modern Alison and is our guide, drawing and telling her story throughout. Emily Skeggs brings to life college-age Alison, who goes from struggling with her homosexuality to embracing it as a critical part of her identity. Most thrilling is Sydney Lucas as young Alison. She’s one of those almost-scary kids with a huge set of pipes and a presence to match.
The staging by uber talented Sam Gold is ingenious, moving the story through time while nodding in the direction of the source material. Gold also makes the most of the in-the-round venue, sometimes swirling the characters through the space.
The piece is written as an operetta; think Gilbert and Sullivan. While I am delighted that Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron are the first all-female team to win a Tony for writing a musical, this is not my favorite form (unless it is actually Gilbert and Sullivan). I’m simply distracted by heart to heart dialogue delivered in singsong. But the real buzz kill for me happened early on when the adult Alison summed up the entire plot to come in one sentence. From that point on there was little at stake. I became increasingly passive and wondered why I wasn’t trusted to follow a more engaging evolution of the story. That would have been a spectacular journey to take.
Fun Home is currently playing at the Circle in the Square Theater. For tickets and information, visit http://funhomebroadway.com/tickets.php.