Circle in the Square Theatre
1633 Broadway at 50th St.
Tuesday - Sunday through September 13, $75-$150
The best off-Broadway musical of last season is now the best Broadway musical of this season. Fun Home hasn’t merely transferred from the Public’s Newman Theater downtown to Circle in the Square on the Great White Way; it has been positively transformed, with returning director Sam Gold and set designer David Zinn making ingenious use of the small, intimate space, the audience surrounding the famed Circle in the Square stage. Nominated for eight Drama Desk Awards last year, Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s magical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s genre-defining graphic memoir is even better the second time around. The deeply personal story delves into the dysfunction of the Bechdel family: father Bruce (Michael Cerveris) is a high school English teacher, a restorer of old houses, and a funeral home director (which leads the kids to call it Fun Home); mother Helen (Judy Kuhn) plays the piano and has a yen for the theater; and younger children Christian (Oscar Williams) and John (Zell Steele Morrow) look up to their older sister, Alison, who is played as an eight-year-old by Sydney Lucas, as an eighteen-year-old by Emily Skeggs, and as a forty-three-year-old adult by Beth Malone. Malone is onstage for the full hundred minutes, watching her character’s life unfold before her. “I don’t trust memory,” she says early on, explaining why she is constantly drawing. When she goes off to college, she finds out something about herself that confuses and scares her — as well as a dark family secret that shakes her already complicated world.
The staging is simply sensational, although there’s nothing simple about it. Furniture, from doors and tables to a console television, a bed, and a casket, rises up and down from beneath the floor as the scenes change, keeping the narrative flowing at a calm, even pace despite the building angst and turmoil. Tesori’s (Violet; Caroline, or Change) music and Kron’s (2.5 Minute Ride, Well) book and lyrics continue to soar, from the outrageously funny “Changing My Major” to the Partridge Family homage “You Are Like a Raincoat,” from the incredibly clever “Ring of Keys” to the mellifluous “Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue,” with the crack band onstage (and enjoying the show as well when they’re not playing). The cast, once again, is outstanding, with Cerveris just the right bit on edge as Bruce; Kuhn splendidly tentative and nervous as Helen; Lucas a powerhouse as the creative small Alison; Skeggs terrific as the wide-eyed, curious middle Alison; Roberta Colindrez delightful as Joan, a lesbian who catches Alison’s eye at Oberlin; and Joel Perez as multiple characters, including Roy, a handyman who helps out around the house. But Gold’s (The Realistic Joneses, The Flick) revamped staging sheds more light on the adult Alison and Malone’s subtly beautiful performance; instead of existing on the periphery as an observer, she is now right in the middle of everything, sometimes sitting down next to one of her younger selves, getting a much more close-up look into her childhood without getting overly sentimental. (The same can practically be said about the audience.) The Broadway version of Fun Home is so extraordinary, it’s made me nearly forget about the marvelous original production.