Fun Home, the groundbreaking and critically acclaimed graphic-novel-turned-musical, is on its first national tour, and Minneapolis is fortunate enough to be one of its stops. From December 13th--18th, the Orpheum will host Lisa Kron’s adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s cartoon memoir. Fun Home is a reflection of Bechdel’s youth, portrayed through two different versions of herself: Small Alison (Alessandra Baldacchino), who represents her childhood, and Medium Alison (Abby Corrigan), who represents the turning point between her adolescence and young adulthood. The story chronicles her experience in discovering and accepting her sexuality, and trying to make sense of her father’s life and death, and is peppered with anecdotes and witty commentary from the middle-aged Alison (Kate Shindle), who serves as the narrator.
An incredibly exciting thing about this show is that female sexuality is at the forefront of it; this is Broadway’s first musical to feature a lesbian protagonist. Queer women are rarely done justice in stories (let alone portrayed at all) but Fun Home hits the nail on the head in that right, highlighting the importance of having references, role models, and reassurance in the validity of their feelings as one figures out and comes to embrace their own identity. It’s a refreshing breath of fresh air, compared to the unfortunately common alternative of poorly-written characters whose traits are nothing more than a laundry list of stereotypes.
While the artistic and liberal use of literary devices is to be expected in musical theatre, Fun Home is unique in its approach. Though there are many instances of innuendo and allusion in the show itself, this particular production kicks it up a notch by packing metaphor and symbolism into every visual medium at hand, from lighting to blocking to set design. But, it’s not overwhelming, due to the genius in the subtlety they’ve chosen to employ. They don't try to draw the understanding of a particular choice out of their audience by casting the focus on it and leaving it there until everyone realizes the parallels, but instead make small references, assume you’ll pick them up, and leave the rest open to interpretation. This allows the story to progress further while giving you a chance to reflect on it. Whoever you are, you will see a very different show from the person sitting next to you.
However, even with the wonderful unpredictability Fun Home has, due to all the different possible interpretations of it, there is one constant in the show, and that is in the quality of the performances given by the actors. There is no point in the show where the stage isn’t electrified with the passion and emotion they bring to their characters. One minute you’ll be laughing and sympathizing with Abby Corrigan as she nails the awkwardness and confusion of being a teenager in love as Medium Alison, and the next you’ll be fighting back tears watching Kate Shindle’s older version of Alison in drowning in agony as her father falls apart before her very eyes.
If there’s anything at all to criticize in this show, it’s the lack of intermission. When a performance is bombarding you with ideas and emotions the way this one does, it’s nice to have a break in the middle to process it all, so you can enjoy the rest of it with a clear head. But, on the other hand, I think I--and the rest of the audience--would have just spent the intermission impatient and hungry for more.
In short, if you’re able, get yourself a ticket to Fun Home for a refreshing take on traditional storytelling and an experience you can’t get from listening to a soundtrack.