Theatre in Review

Thursday, 03 November 2016 21:47

Come to the Fun Home! Featured

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Fun Home is not merely a well-crafted, excellent musical in every sense of the word but an important one. Fittingly winning the Tony award for Best Musical the same year same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States, Fun Home is the first Broadway musical to feature a lesbian protagonist. Beyond that, it is also the first musical to discuss homosexuality in such an open way. The main character, Alison, discovers and learns about her own sexuality the same time her father, Bruce, is battling with his. Her coming out of the closet coincides so aptly with his repression into it that it's amazing they didn't run into each other in the doorway. 

Based on writer and cartoonist Alison Bechdel's 2006 graphic memoir of the same name, the story told in Fun Home -- already dramatic and engaging on its own -- becomes that much more poignant due to the fact that it is true. This was Bechdel's life, and it is an extremely personal tale that requires a paradoxical balance of vulnerability and courage to tell.

Non-linear, like Bechdel's memoir, and brimming with intelligence, humor, and frustration, Fun Home is less a typical musical than it is a dramatic play with songs sprinkled in. Where you won't find big bawdy show-stopping numbers that burst onto the scene, you'll find elegant, pretty melodies that extend organically from significant moments in the story. The protagonist, Alison, is portrayed by three actresses to encompass her lifespan thus far: Small Al, Middle Al, and Big Al -- or just Al, who is present-day Alison writing and narrating her story.

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Her father Bruce serves as both a mirror of and partial antagonist to Alison. As is said in the musical a couple of times, the heart of Fun Home is that Alison and Bruce are "nothing alike" and "exactly alike." Al's relationship with her father is set against the backdrop of their functionally dysfunctional family, with Al's two brothers playing a part as well as Helen, their mother and the long-suffering wife of Bruce. An English teacher, intellectual, and funeral director -- their house doubles as a funeral home, from where the title is derived -- Bruce fusses over every aspect of their family house, improving and embellishing every detail in a clear projection of the lack of control he feels he has over his own life, all the while subjecting the rest of the family to his obsession.

Fun Home doesn't shy away from anything. Big ideas are conveyed through small details, which include everything from the seemingly most mundane aspects of life (like cleaning the house) to the most intimate and even somewhat embarrassing (like after Al's first sexual experience with a girl when she adorably and giddily freaks out, declaring she's "changing [her] major to Joan.") It's funny, poignant, sad, and most of all, honest.

It is the least cheesy musical you will ever see.

On top of its artistic integrity alone, Fun Home is an extremely important musical for LGBT awareness. It brings the (to some, distant or fearsome) ideas of homosexuality and "coming out" to the stage and airs them out in a way that demystifies them and, by default, normalizes them. This is the first step to achieving acceptance: removing fear and saying, "Yes. This is normal. This messed up family that happens to include some gay people is just like your messed up family that happens to include some straight people." It can really be that simple, thanks to shows like Fun Home that are unafraid to be real.

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Fun Home is playing at the Oriental Theater through November 13th.

Last modified on Thursday, 23 March 2017 00:59
Anne Rakowiecki

Musical theatre geek. Cat enthusiast. Rock-n-roller. DePaul University graduate. St. Louisan/Chicagoan. All about that bass.

 

 

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