Durham, N.C. — There is a reason why Fun Home won the 2015 Tony Award for best musical. It is unlike many of its counterparts, in that it tells a deeply personal story on subject matter that isn't normally the focus of a musical.
The show is based on Alison Bechdel’s best-selling graphic memoir that explores her complicated relationship with her father. Throughout the show we bounce between Allison as a child, a teen and an adult.
Former Miss America Kate Shindle tackles the difficult role of middle-aged Allison, a lesbian cartoonist who is trying to draw her father. As the narrator, she is on stage the entire show. She cringes during her awkward college years and laughs at her days playing inside the caskets at her family's funeral home (aka the Fun Home).
But where Shindle excels is when she is tying the together the stages of her life. She is walking through each memory struggling to understand why her father stepped in front of a bus. She is taking in every element of the scene, trying to draw it in detail.
On Broadway, medium Allison was probably my favorite character. Charlotte native Abby Corrigan is starring as medium Allison in the national tour. Corrigan does a good job, as her predecessors on Broadway did, of capturing the awkwardness of her character. She is the most awkward college student I've ever seen. At first she is uncomfortable with her sexuality, which leads to some funny moments with her first girlfriend in college. As she starts to accept herself and grow into the person she will ultimately become, Corrigan is able to bring some much needed humor into the production, especially during her show-stealing performance of "Changing My Major."
Alessandra Baldacchino, who plays small Allison, was also the understudy for the role on Broadway. She really shines during "Ring of Keys," but I think my favorite scenes for her were when she interacted with Allison's two brothers. The trio's "Come to the Fun Home" is one of the most memorable and lighthearted scenes in the show.
Robert Petkoff takes on the role of Allison's father, Bruce Bechdel. It is difficult to follow Michael Cerveris, who won a Tony for his portrayal of Bruce, but Petkoff does a fine job straddling that line between Bruce's family obligations and his yearning to live his truth as a gay man. Petkoff embodies Bruce's madness and ultimately shows him spinning out of control into despair. He made you hate Bruce and still feel bad for him.
Bruce is obsessive and hurtful at times to his family. He treats his marriage as an afterthought as he forges into an inappropriate relationship with a former high school student doing yard work for the family. The scene where Helen (played by Susan Moniz) plays the piano loudly to drown out the sounds coming from her husband seducing the young man in the next room is brutal.
The thing that makes Fun Home work is that you become completely invested in Bechdel and her story. You are rooting for her to come to terms with her dad's death. You want her to have just one more conversation with him or to find a way to change the past.
If you don't care about Allison at her various stages, then the show just won't work. That's why casting the right actors to take on these roles was absolutely crucial.
This 1 hour and 40 minute show runs without intermission. For so much happening on stage, the show actually moves quickly. The lack of intermission also helps raise the intensity of the show. It all builds to the climax of the heart-wrenching "Telephone Wire" duet between adult Alison and Bruce.
When the show ran on Broadway, it was at the Circle in the Square theater. The stage is basically a bowl, with the furthest audience member sitting no more than 10 rows away. You really felt like you were sitting in the living room with this family, going through every struggle.
The setup for the national tour is obviously different. You are missing some of that intimacy, but you will only notice it if you saw it on Broadway first. The set design for the national tour takes you inside the Bechdel home in more detail, which was perfect for the final scenes when Allison returns home from college.
Fun Home runs through Sunday at Durham Performing Arts Center. Tickets are still available.