The national tour of “Fun Home,” the 2015 Tony-winner for Best Musical, came to Boston on Oct. 17 to tell the story of Alison Bechdel’s journey from childhood to working as a prolific cartoonist and activist for the LGBTQA+ community. Family, identity, truth and change are all explored in the musical, as the audience looks back through the eyes of adult Alison, played by Kate Shindle, as she reflects on her youth and relationships and creates the graphic novel upon which this show is based.
Despite the fact that “Fun Home” covers three separate periods in time, the storyline remains cohesive. The show runs straight through without an intermission, alternating between scenes from Small Alison’s childhood and Medium Alison’s college years. The audience sees the first signs of Alison’s lesbian identity as Small Alison pleads with her parents to wear boys’ clothes and get a short haircut. Her lesbian identity solidifies as Medium Alison finally accepts her sexuality, with excitement and confusion, at Oberlin College. Seeing Medium Alison come out and accept herself is especially heartwarming when the audience has just seen Small Alison struggling with her feelings about women and femininity.
On the topic of “Fun Home’s” young characters, all of elementary school age, the actors who portrayed them deserve special praise for tackling the show’s serious subject matter in a very experienced way. Henry Boshart and Noelle Hogan were both excellent as Alison’s brothers John and Christian, but Carly Gold deserves special praise for her captivating professional debut as Small Alison. Gold expressed remarkable innocence and vulnerability in this role, creating some of the best moments in the show.
“Fun Home” parallels Alison’s journey out of the closet with her father’s own journey in his sexuality. Bruce, played by Robert Petkoff, has secret affairs with men, hiding his homosexuality. Petkoff gave a dynamic performance, highlighting Bruce’s complex personality and mood swings, from loving father to frustrated authoritarian to ashamed gay man. This performance, in turn, pushed his surrounding cast members to match his energy, crafting a breathtaking story.
Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, the composer and lyricist of “Fun Home” respectively, crafted a simple but engaging score that relies on dreamy guitar and piano melodies that frame Alison’s flashbacks in the show. The soft music provided a stark contrast to the show’s serious subject matter, and this dichotomy kept audience members on the edge of their seats from start to finish.
“Fun Home” accomplishes the daunting task of warming your heart, and then shattering it, in a loop that continues throughout the show. It lets the audience know that even in the face of tragedy, loss and loneliness, memories can keep people, and experiences, very much alive and present.