There’s a quote that occurs in one of the first songs of the musical Fun Home, currently playing at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through April 1, 2017, that struck a nerve: “chaos never happens if it’s never seen”. That describes many families: there is utter chaos behind a carefully manicured facade. Perhaps that commonality is one reason why Fun Home won so many Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2015. Perhaps it is the fact that it is one of the few musicals that focuses on the experience of a Lesbian finding herself (think about it: most stories that you see on stage dealing with LBGTQ focus on the G — male homosexuality. Perhaps it is the female strength of the creative team: based on a graphic novel by a woman (Alison Bechdel (FB), who is also famous for the Bechdel Test), with music by a woman (Jeanine Tesori), and stage book and lyrics by another woman (Lisa Kron). Whatever the reason, Fun Home caught my attention when it was in its Off-Broadway run at the Public (which is when I picked up the cast album). I enjoyed the music, and was pleased when it made it to Broadway, and then announced the tour. By now, you should have figured out that’s where we were last night, instead of hearing a Purim Schpiel. After all, if I want to hear about a evil madman with a plot to destroy a people, and the clueless leader that he works for and is able to manipulate, I’ll read the news.
Fun Home tells the true story of Alison Bechdel, which she captured in her non-linear graphic novel of the same name. It addresses how Alison realized that she was a lesbian, while dealing with her father who was a closeted gay man who never admitted it to himself. Shortly after Alison came out to him, he committed suicide by standing in front of an oncoming truck. It addresses the chaos behind her life: the dangerous behaviors, the domestic violence, the neglect.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, this has adult themes.
It also speaks to a certain audience. I’ve noted before about how when we go to a theatrical piece about the black experience, the hue of the audience changes. For Fun Home, it wasn’t hue but orientation. There were distinctly and clearly more gay couples at this musical than I have seen at many other shows. So many so, in fact, that I was much more conscious about the ring of keys on my belt. (See the show. You’ll understand.) I think this is because this is a musical that speaks to the gay and lesbian experience in a way that hasn’t been addressed in a musical before. Other musicals play the gay aspect for either fun (think The Producers, think La Cage Aux Folles, think Victor Victoria), or the tragedy is the focus. This musical really focuses on Bechdel’s statement from one of her comics: “What would happen if we spoke the truth?”. This is a family that goes from denial and chaos to the truth in a way that is both tragic and comic. For some, the truth brings growth and freedom. For others, it brings a realization about the life squandered, the mistakes made, the lost communication and chances.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, this musical will make some people uncomfortable.
Reading the critical reviews of this, it is universally loved. Talking to some others more used to the conventional musical, the appreciation is different. They like the music, but are less turned on by the story. As someone squarely in the baby-boom generation, I can see how this would make some uncomfortable. It may bring up things they didn’t want to face; it may make them realize problems they hadn’t known were surfacing. It could also just be an unrelatable demographic.
As for me, I found the story and the way it was told fascinating. The approach taken was to tell the story from the point of view of Alison at three different points in her life: Small Alison [about 10-12] (Alessandra Baldacchino (FB) at our performance, alternating with Carly Gold (FB)), Medium Alison [about 19-20] (Caroline Murrah (FB), the understudy, at our performance, normally Abby Corrigan), and Adult Alison [about 30] (Kate Shindle (FB)). Except for near the end, it is small and medium Alison that are interacting with her parents Bruce (Robert Petkoff (FB)) and Helen (Susan Moniz (FB)), her siblings Christian (Pierson Salvador (FB)) and John (Lennon Nate Hammond (FB)), and her partner Gail (Karen Eilbacher). Adult Alison observes it all as a memory, commenting and drawing and providing context and, of course, captions. Note that all of the other characters (Roy / Mark / Pete / Bobby Jeremy) — primarily the boyfriends of Bruce — are played by Robert Hager (FB).
As directed by Sam Gold (FB), the production unfolds quite smoothly. The actors seem to be having quite a bit of fun with their roles. I particularly noted this for a number of numbers with Small Alison such as “Come to the Fun Home” and (of course) “Ring of Keys”, and with Medium Alison in “Changing My Major to Joan”. Adult Alison got her chance in “Telephone Wire”. All sang and performed quiet well. Note that this isn’t your typical show with chorines and choreography for large dance numbers, except perhaps for “Raincoat of Love”. Danny Mefford (FB) designed what choreography there was.
Rounding out the swing and understudies were Michael Winther (FB) (u/s Bruce), Amanda Naughton (FB) (u/s Helen, Alison), Sofia Trimarchi (u/s Small Alison, Christian, John), Caroline Murrah (FB) (u/s Medium Alison, Joan), and Anthony Fortino (FB) (u/s Roy / Mark / Pete / Bobby Jeremy). Fortino also served as Dance Captain.
The music was under the direction of Micah Young (FB), who also played keyboard in the onstage band. Others in the band were Jakob Reinhardt (FB) (Guitars); Alan Stevens Hewitt (FB) (Basses); Philip Varricchio (FB) (Reeds); John Doing (FB) (Drums/Percussion); David Mergen (FB) (Cello); Jen Choi Fischer (FB) (Violin/Viola). Other music credits: Alex Harrington (FB) – Associate Music Director; Antoine Silverman – Music Coordinator; Billy Jay Stein (FB)/Strange Cranium (FB) – Electronic Music Programming; Kaye-Houston Music [Annie Kaye, Doug Houston (FB)] – Music Copying; Chris Fenwick (FB) – Music Supervision; John Clancy (FB) – Orchestrations.
Turning to the creating and production design: David Zinn (FB)’s scenic and costume design started as an attic of memory. At times it turned into a dorm room, and then a wall in New York, and then most interestingly, that wall rotated up to create a ceiling for Alison’s house in Pennsylvania. Tres neat! In general, the design worked quite well. It was augmented by the lighting design of Ben Stanton, which was very rainbowish (appropriately, for an LBTGQ show) and occasionally shone into the audience. One thing I didn’t realize until I saw the page on Stanton’s lighting design was that the original production was designed for a thrust stage or a stage surrounded by audience, not the proscenium of the Ahmanson or most tour houses. Thus the interesting design was a tour-specific adaptation that worked quite well given the limitations. Zinn’s costumes worked well with Rick Caroto‘s hair and wig design. I can’t speak to how appropriately period they were or how appropriately lesbian they were (but then again — here’s the scary part — lesbians and gays look like everyone else — heaven forfend! (said tongue-in-cheek) — and here’s the scary part — lesbians and gays do tongue-in-cheek as well — oh, how do I get out of this hole I’ve dug for myself 🙂 ). The sound design by Kai Harada was good, but there were a few late microphone pickups that were likely the fault of the local sound board. Rounding out the production credits: Jim Carnahan CSA and Jillian Cimini CSA (Casting); Michael Camp – Company Manager; Shawn Pennington – Production Stage Manager.
As it somehow happens every year, we caught another Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (FB) performance. Supporting this organization is even more important given the recessive administration currently in office. I gave at the show; you can give by clicking here.
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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
Upcoming Shows: Next week brings Martha, a one-woman play on the life of Martha Graham (a good preparation for our May VPAC show of her dance group), at the Whitefire Theatre (FB). The end of the month brings An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.
P.S.: The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) announcement was at the end of February, and here’s what I thought of it.