I recall sitting at the original 2015 Broadway production of “Fun Home” and thinking, “This is a perfect musical for TheaterWorks.” The small-scale and immensely moving Tony Award winning show is now being presented in a fine rendering at the Hartford theatre. Someone listened!
“Fun Home” is an adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir with music by Jeanine Tesori and book/lyrics by Lisa Kron. The story follows Bechdel’s coming to terms with being a lesbian and her relationship with her closeted gay father, a funeral director and high school English teacher. Her attempts to discover what made the man tick is told in a series of non-linear vignettes connected by Bechdel and her younger selves. At TheaterWorks these three roles are nicely realized by Sarah Beth Pfeifer as the present-day Bechdel (a dead-ringer for the real graphic artist), Julia Nightingale as college-age Alison and Skylar Lynn Matthews, a dynamo as young Alison. The ingenious structure of the musical, which is performed without intermission over 95 minutes, bounces off these characters at different times in their lives as they reveal more about themselves and their mercurial father (Aaron Lazar, excellent in a difficult role).
Tesori and Kron’s brilliant score includes a coming-of-age song for each of the Alisons and the ladies deliver the goods with each. Pfeifer brings painful intensity to “Telephone Wire” where she attempts an honest conversation with her dad, Nightingale’s heartfelt rendition of “Changing My Major” is a hilarious and passionate ode to burgeoning sexuality and young Matthews is a major find singing “Ring of Keys” about her first same-sex attraction. Although Christiane Noll (memorable as the bipolar mom in TW’s “Next To Normal” a few seasons back), doesn’t have a lot to do here as Alison’s mother, she sings the hell out of her one major song late in the musical, “Days and Days”.
Some small quibbles must be noted, however. The upbeat Partridge Family-inspired “Come to the Fun Home” is a crowd-pleaser, but somewhat less so due to the blurry diction of Alison’s brothers, Christian (Myles Low) and John (Sam Duncan). Ali Louis Bourzgui is saddled with four roles which may be three too many for the actor. Although the intimacy of TheaterWorks is ideal for this musical, Luke Cantarella’s set design and especially Camilla Tassi’s projections do little to enhance the show. The busy proscenium arch distracts from the projections as does the unattractive slatted wood wall located upstage.
Rob Ruggiero directs with his customary polish and his casting is mostly spot-on. The efficient band, under the musical direction of Jeff Cox, is superior. “Fun Home” is an unusual, intelligent musical about growing up with imperfect parents. It is well worth seeking out.
“Fun Home” has already been extended through November 6 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street in Hartford, Connecticut. Masks are required at Wednesday and Saturday matinees and optional at all other performances. For further information, call the box office at: 860.527.7838 or visit: www.hartfordtheaterworks.org
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.