The Public Theater, Newman Theater
425 Lafayette St. by Astor Pl.
Extended through January 12, $81.50 - $91.50
In the opening scene of the Public Theater’s marvelous adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic novel Fun Home, the forty-three-year-old Alison (Beth Malone) is watching her father, Bruce (Michael Cerveris), play with her eight-year-old self (Sydney Lucas). “Dad, I know you think cartoons are silly, but I draw cartoons,” she says. “And I need real things to draw from because I don’t trust memory.” That adult version of Alison is onstage throughout the 105-minute musical, standing at her drawing table or walking around David Zinn’s changing sets as she watches her younger selves, ages eight and eighteen (Alexandra Socha), deal with their difficult father and not-so-clueless mother, Helen (Judy Kuhn), who chooses to look the other way at her husband’s dangerous indiscretions. The award-winning graphic novel was subtitled A Family Tragicomic, and the show maintains that sensibility as it centers on Bechdel’s (Dykes to Watch Out For) complex relationship with her father, an English teacher and funeral home (“fun home”) director obsessed with historic restoration and, as it turns out, young men and boys. Composer Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie; Caroline, or Change) and book writer and lyricist Lisa Kron (In the Wake, Well) have transformed Fun Home into a compelling musical that intelligently brings the intimate coming-of-age story to life, with plenty of charm and humor accompanying the anger and fear. When the teenage Alison goes off to college, she discovers that she is a lesbian, falling in love with the strong-minded Joan (Roberta Colindrez); “I’m changing my major to sex with Joan,” Alison sings in one of the show’s most entertaining numbers. As Alison learns more about herself, she also discovers her father’s big secret, leading to a tragedy that she is still trying to understand.
Director Sam Gold (The Flick, Circle Mirror Transformation) does a terrific job navigating among the three Alisons, each one dealing with Bruce in different ways as they grow up, along with the various musical styles, which include the Partridge Family send-up “You Are Like a Raincoat” and Small Alison and her brothers’ (Griffin Birney and Noah Hinsdale) mock commercial “Come to the Fun Home.” Cerveris (Assassins, Nikolai and the Others) infuses his character with an edgy creepiness that is always threatening to explode, while Kuhn (Chess, Les Misérables) excels in her significantly smaller role. The three Alisons form a fascinating whole, with Lucas a bundle of positive energy in her off-Broadway debut, Socha (Spring Awakening) displaying a complex combination of dread and hope, and Malone remaining cool and calm as her childhood passes before her eyes. Fun Home, which has been extended through December 29, is a uniquely told, thoroughly satisfying story that examines those critical moments in life that help define who we are, and who we become.