I saw this new musical on Broadway on 4/4.  It was the most emotional and satisfying new musical I've seen in a long time.  It's an adaptation of the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel about growing up and coming of age in Pennsylvania with her two little brothers, her mother (an actress and teacher) and her father (a teacher and home restorer).  Most amusingly, the family business is a funeral home, the "fun home" of the title.  Alison grows up, goes to college, comes to terms with her sexuality, and comes out to her parents, not realizing that her father is also gay, and has always had a secret gay life.  The show is told from the point of view of the grown up Alison.  It's a memory play, like *The Glass Menagerie* or *Our Town*, and it touches a lot of the same strings of sweetness, bitterness, forgiveness, confusion, and regret.

 

The show starts out warm and direct, introducing you to the characters and making their life look pleasant and wholesome.  Early in the show the three kids do a hilarious commercial for the "fun home".  This all serves to draw you in and enjoy the show and care about the characters - - slowly but surely the tone turns darker and you see the unhappiness and strain under the surface.  Later in the show the little girl is watching TV and a production number from her favorite show comes to life, and she inserts her family into the number, singing about how happy they are.  This was pure Brecht - - at first I laughed but then I caught my breath because I realized it wasn't funny at all.

 

Alison is played by three actors: a 40-something adult (the narrator, Beth Malone), a 20-ish young woman (the Alison in college, Emily Skeggs), and a 10 year old girl (the one who lives at home, Sydney Lucas, who is the youngest performer ever to win an Obie Award, for the off-Broadway production of the show).  The little girl has a fascinating song about halfway through the show - - she and her father are at a diner and she sees a striking woman, clearly a lesbian, out and proud, and she is awestruck and fascinated by her.  It's a song about the moment of lesbian awakening by a 10-year old girl - - very tricky, and expertly done by the creators of the show and the actress playing the role.  The 20-something Alison has a funny song after her first sexual experience, bursting with awkwardness and euphoria - - again, tricky but so beautifully executed.

 

The music is by Jeanine Tesori with a book and lyrics by Lisa Kron.  Tesori also wrote the music for *Violet* and *Caroline, or Change* - - Kron is a name I know, but this is the first time I've seen her work.  The show is beautifully put together, the songs effortlessly weave their way into the action and grow out of the characters and situations.  Most impressive, they've mapped out the show so there are only a few times when a song ends and the audience applauds.  This gives momentum to the show, makes it all seem more real (because you're not continually being reminded that you're watching a performance), and gives more impact to the songs when you DO applaud.

 

About halfway through the show I started waiting for a song by the mother.  She has a prominent role, of course, but comparatively little to say or sing, in comparison to the other characters.  I thought they must be planning a big song for her later in the show.  In your typical, cookie cutter Broadway musical, it would be a breast-beating, angry, show-stopping outpour.  But the creators of the show wrote her a song that's both honest and evasive, and though it did at times soar, the general effect was of a stifled sob.  Thankfully that was one of the moments where the audience was allowed to applaud, and I was applauding the song itself as much as the performance (beautifully sung and acted by Judy Kuhn).

 

The father is played by Michael Cerveris, the "name" actor in the show - - I've seen him many times, it might even have been him that Karen Miller and I saw in *Hedwig and the Angry Inch* back in the 90s.  He does a great job playing a not very likable character - - he's unhappy and conflicted, which that leads to him not being a very good father and husband.  Cerveris doesn't shy away from the warts.

 

The show is gloriously directed by Sam Gold, who also did the wonderful production of *The Real Thing* I saw last year.  The Circle in the Square is a theater in the round, which presents huge challenges for the director.  Gold seemed to take it on as a benefit, as a way to draw the audience into the story, to show the story from every angle.

 

I might go see this show again, I loved it that much.

 

LOVE, Chris