By Daniel Skora
In 2006, artist/cartoonist Alison Bechdel published a graphic novel that she had labored over for many years. “Fun Home” was a memoir about growing up in a small Pennsylvania town struggling to discover her sexual identity while dealing with a father who was obsessive, demanding, and gay. The book became both a critical and an artistic success, spending several weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. Bechdel’s story was both dramatic and relevant, eventually being reincarnated as a Broadway musical. It received twelve Tony Award nominations in 2015, winning five, including Best Musical. The show’s current U.S. National Tour is presently appearing in Detroit at the Fisher Theatre for a two-week engagement.
“Fun Home” gets its name from the funeral home Alison’s father operated in addition to his job as a high school English teacher. Though the musical is primarily about Bechdel’s coming to grips with her sexual identity, her father Bruce and his compulsive personality are an essential part of the story. Alison is shown in three stages of her life: as a child (Alessandra Baldacchino, Carly Gold at certain performances), as a young adult (Abby Corrigan) and as a woman (Kate Shindle). Her journey to self-discovery is hastened during her college years by involvement with the multi-racial lesbian Joan (Karen Eilbacher).
Alison’s troubled father Bruce (Robert Petkoff) is in no position to properly mentor either his daughter or his two sons, John (Lennon Nate Hammond) and Christian (Pierson Salvador). He has other interests, like the antiques he collects to furnish the houses he restores, and the boys he picks up from school to engage in homosexual behavior. For all his good intentions, whenever he does get involved in his children’s lives, it always seems to come back to him. His long-suffering wife Helen (Susan Moniz) is unable to overcome her husband’s dominating personality. Several other parts in the play, including a student whom Bruce seduces, are played by Robert Hager.
The music of “Fun Home” has none of the typical Broadway orchestral sound. Rather, its melodies are accomplished primarily by reeds, cellos, violins and guitars. The lyrics to the songs become an essential part of the shows dialogue.
“Fun Home-The Graphic Novel” is a nicely illustrated, intimately told story of one woman’s struggle to establish her identity in a family where the father has his own afflicted agenda and where the world offers no succor. “Fun Home-The Musical” is an emotionally gripping drama that makes Ms. Bechdal story come alive through words and song.
“Fun Home” clocks in at a little over an hour and a half and is performed without intermission. Book and lyrics are by Lisa Kron, music is by Jeanine Tesori. Set design and costumes are by David Zinn. Director for the tour is Sam Gold.
The show runs through December 11th. Tickets are on sale at the Fisher Theatre box office in the Fisher Building, all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 1.800.982.2787, and online at www.BroadwayinDetroit.com or www.TicketMaster.com. The Fisher Theatre is located at 3011 West Grand Blvd. in Detroit.