Salisbury Press

Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Rip Cantelmi Rip Cantelmi
Kate Pistone Kate Pistone

Curtain Rises:

Friday, May 3, 2019 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

Civic’s ‘Fun Home’ puts the fun in dysfunction

The tagline for the musical, “Fun Home,” could be: “Putting the fun in dysfunction.”

Civic Theatre of Allentown presents the Lehigh Valley premiere of the Tony Award-winning musical, “Fun Home,” May 3-19.

The original Broadway production, opening in 2015 and closing in 2016, was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, receiving five Tonys, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score.

“It won the Tony Award for best musical, best book and best score, which almost never happens. So it merits being on the main stage,” says Civic Theatre Artistic Director William Ross Sanders, director and choreographer of Civic’s production of “Fun Home.”

The Civic “Fun Home” production Music Direction is by Nick Conti. Costume and Lighting Designer is Will Morris, Civic Theatre Associate Artistic Director.

The show’s Music is by Jeanine Tesori and the Book and Lyrics are by Lisa Kron based on the graphic memoir, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel.

“Fun Home” tells the coming-of-age story of lesbian author Alison Bechdel, from her youth, to her years at Oberlin College, and to the present.

Alison, now grown, is writing an autobiography. She tries to deal with her past, especially her relationship with her father, Bruce, a closeted gay man and owner of the family business, the Bechdel Funeral Home, or “fun” home as it’s known to young Alison and her brothers, John and Christian.

“In terms of staging it, it’s fragmented and it’s composed of nonlinear vignettes, so that’s interesting to me, and makes the staging of it really something that is a challenge but exciting to work on, as opposed to something more traditional,” says Sanders.

“A friend of mine sent me the book right after it came out and I really fell in love with the book. When they were making it into a musical, I was really wondering how they were going to do it. I think the musical is even richer than the book.”

In casting “Fun Home,” Sanders says, “I was most concerned with finding a Bruce. I always think that someone’s going to show up, and lucklly someone did: Rip Cantelmi as Bruce. And Kate Pistone as Alison and the rest of them are extraordinary.”

The cast includes Madeleine Huggins and Golda Rabin as Alison at younger ages. Also in the cast are Nachi Lederer, Veronica Bocian, Kirsten Almeida, Todd Croslis and Jordan Silver.

“It’s a very personal story for Alison, but it’s also a very universal story for anyone who has come out of the closet or stayed in the closet,” Sanders says.

“You know, it’s said ‘Fun Home’ puts the fun in dysfunction. It’s beautiful and messy and hilarious at times, and a heartbreaking journey.

“I wouldn’t understand why anyone couldn’t have a near-perfect theater experience. It isn’t ‘The Addams Family,’ but it’s another kind of family. It’s the Bechdel family.”

Sanders says “Fun Home” represents the balance that he seeks in a Civic Theatre season:

“I try to curate a seaon. I try to determine what the themes are and what balances comedy with drama. What kind of musical is this? What should it be balanced with? It’s all about trying to create a season that’s a journey for the audience member.”

Continues Sanders, “There’s so little coming out of Broadway that we’re excited about or capable of doing that this felt inevitable.

“It goes back to when we did ‘Falsettos’ in 1993 and, more recently, ‘Spring Awakening’ and ‘Next to Normal.’ It’s always such a pleasure to bring these Tony winners to the Lehigh Valley that maybe people didn’t get to see in New York.

“I always try to balance the season with pieces that are well-known and not so well-known. And I try to present as many premieres as possible. And I know this [‘Fun Home’] hadn’t been done before nor on tour [in the Lehigh Valley.]”

“It’s always difficult in the Valley to do pieces that aren’t ‘Young Frankenstein’ or “A Christmas Carol’ because you never know what the audience turnout is going to be. I’m hoping that this finds its audience.

“I think that the other tricky thing about this piece and about Civic is that we don’t get the people who would come to these shows because they don’t know it’s a professional director, designer and orchestra. I know there are a lot of people in the area who go to New York who for some reason we’re not able to attract. And that’s frustrating.

“We have actors who are choosing to not do it [stage acting] as a profession and we have people who are choosing to go into it as a profession or have acted professionally.”

Civic Theatre of Allentown is partnering with the Bradbury Sullivan Center for a one-night only, “Pride Night,” 7:30 p.m. May 4, with a talk-back session following the performance in the 19th Street Theatre with the cast and crew of “Fun Home” along with a speaker from the Center.

Tickets: Civic Theater of Allentown box office, 19th Street Theatre, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; civictheatre.com; 610-432-8943

“Pippin” gets in the Act: Act 1 DeSales University Theatre closes its 2018-2019 Main Stage season with the Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson musical, “Pippin,” through May 5, Main Stage, Labuda Center for the Performing Arts, DeSales University, Center Valley.

Winner of four 2013 Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revival, “Pippin” features the cabaret favorite, “Corner of the Sky.”

The DeSales’ production is directed by Dennis Razze, who stated in a press release: “‘Pippin’ is one of Stephen Schwartz’s finest shows and has long been a favorite of mine.

“The songs are infectious and fun and the choreography, originally created by the amazing Bob Fosse, is electrifying and unabashedly theatrical.

“We’ve got a terrific cast of very talented students who will are having the time of their lives working on this musical theatre masterpiece.”

“Pippin” Scenic Designer is Will Neuert and Guest Costume Designer is Deborah Burrill.

Tickets: Labuda Center for the Performing Arts box office, DeSales University, 2755 Station Avenue, Center Valley; desales.edu/act1; 610-282-3192

“Curtain Rises” is a column about the theater and stage shows. Email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, pwillistein@tnonline.com