Theater Review: ‘Fun Home’ astounding visit at Civic
“Fun Home,” the tragicomic musical through May 19, Civic Theatre of Allentown, is an astounding piece dramatic art.
The winner of five Tony Awards when it premiered on Broadway in 2015, with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, tells the story of a young girl’s dysfunctional family in an extremely innovative and heart-rending way.
The script, based on lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, chronicles the author’s childhood and youth in the Bechdel family in rural Pennsylvania, focusing on her complex relationship with her father and her struggle to accept her sexual orientation.
Jeanine Tesori’s award-winning musical score helps define the drama and gives voice to the musical’s sympathetic characters.
In bringing “Fun Home” to the stage in Allentown, Civic’s Artistic Director William Ross Sanders has navigated the challenges of the non-linear plot, capturing its profound mood and spirit. Under his direction, he elicits sensitive performances from all nine cast members, young and adult. His choreography and use of the space are noteworthy.
in the opening night May 3 performance seen for this review, Rip Cantelmi’s portrayal of Bruce Bechdel, the conflicted father living a double life, was genuine. The song he sings to help put his daughter, Small Alison, go to sleep is touched with anguish, with both knowing what he is going out to do next.
Alison is three actors playing 10-year-old Small Alison (Golda Rabin), Medium Alison (Madeleine Huggins) in college, and Alison (Kate Pistone). All three are standouts, with each providing perceptive interpretations of the various periods in the character’s life.
The adult Alison is a narrator of sorts who goes about taking notes for her memoir. She sometimes plays scenes in her own time, but often is an observer of herself at her other ages.
Standing downstage in a single spotlight, Small Alison belts out “Rings of Keys.” Her young brothers John (Jordan Silver) and Christian (Todd Croslis) were no slackers, singing their musical invitation with Small Alison to “Come to the Fun Home.”
Alison’s passive mother Helen insists that everything is going to come out all right. Helen, played effectively by Kirsten Almeida, makes only a moderate impression until she sings about her “tsunami-like revelation” in her powerful solo “Days and Days.”
Medium Alison’s love interest in college is Joan, a confident young woman played engagingly by Veronica Bocian.
Rounding out the cast, Roy-Mark-Pete-Bobby Jeremy are portrayed by the versatile Nachi Lederer.
Music direction is by Nicholas Conti, conducting a seven-member orchestra, working well with the singers on opening night, but with a tendency to occasionally win out volume-wise.
Technical director and scenic designer Joshua Deruosi earns praise for an intriguing set that is open to the backstage wall. Filled with appropriate junk and sometimes Victorian furniture, it makes use of scenic spaces to create variety and facilitate almost effortless scene changes.
None of the scene changes would work without Will Morris’ complicated, highly-skilled lighting design for the particular spaces.
Of the background projections and lighting images, by far the most memorable is the silhouette of Bruce dissecting a corpse.
Did we forget to mention that besides teaching English, Alison’s dad was a mortician?
After all, “Fun Home” is the Bechdel kids’ shortened name for Funeral Home.
Tickets: Civic Theater of Allentown box office, 19th Street Theatre, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; civictheatre.com; 610-432-8943