When it comes to Broadway-caliber theatre productions, cities like Seattle get what New York is willing to give them. Very often this means local audiences only get a taste of the most mainstream, spectacular efforts the Great White Way has to offer, remaining unexposed to the more challenging and innovative works that do sometimes still happen there. As a result, theatre (particularly musical theatre) is relegated to its niche enclave of dedicated fans along with a wider audience of casual theatre goers who come knowing what to expect. While presenting an enjoyable way to pass a few evening hours this can also bear a disappointing stamp of mediocrity. Fun Home, currently playing at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, is a happy exception to this trend.
Like Next to Normal before it, Fun Home works to break the preconceived notions of what musical theatre is and can be. Following more in the tradition of Stephen Sondheim (as its closing notes seem to strongly wink at) instead of the far more trodden path of Andrew Lloyd Webber, this musical attempts to push its medium to greater deeps and a more meaningful exploration of the human condition. Armed with an imaginative creative team and stellar cast, this touring production is up to the challenge.
As Fun Home already swept the 2015 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book (Lisa Korn), Best Score (Jeanine Tesori & Lisa Kron), and Best Direction of a Musical (Sam Gold) it seems a bit late in the game to comment on these aspects of the production. Suffice it to say this present touring manifestation does work to validate those accolades. What differs from the original Broadway show and needs comment here is the cast, which masterfully maintains a level of quality worthy of the production's origin.
In this adventure of trying to make some sense out the role our parents have played in our lives, as well as the one we have played in theirs, there are a number of stand out performances, but Abby Corrigan in the role of Medium Alison is particularly memorable. Playing the middle portion of the main character divided between three stages of her life, Corrigan tackles this transitional, pivotal moment with a unique energy that is instantly captivating. She beams with the awkward excitement of early adulthood and communicates with a perfect economy of gestures and facial expressions which precisely cut their way to back of the house. Kate Shindle offers a calmer and more retrospective approach to the older Alison and Carly Gold gives a very sweet and endearing performance as Small Alison. Breaking from the role traditionally reserved for child characters, Gold shines with the more meaningful number "Ring of Keys" where the youngest of the Alisons first becomes aware of her attraction towards women in this song of confusion and budding self-awareness. On that note, Fun Home presents a welcomed portrayal of lesbian life which is oddly under-represented in a world of theatre that offers so many explorations into other gay experiences and issues. Yet another point in its favor.
Musicals have a tendency to explode into flashy numbers where adults essentially behave like children. Fun Home avoids that cliche while allowing for one such number that does let kids be kids as the three Bechdel children play at making their own commercial for the family funeral home. "Come to the Fun Home" is a definite high point and a welcomed, light-hearted relief from the more weighing subject matter.
On the heavier end of the spectrum, Robert Petkoff walks a fine line between sympathetic and despicable in the role of Bruce, Alison's troubled father. While much of the story revolves around Bruce's struggle between his two lives, our only insights into who he was are seen through what Alison remembers and as his resistance to revealing his true self to her is at the core of her struggle, we share her limitations. Nonetheless, Petkoff manages to provide a multitude of nuances for this many-sided, mystery character who took secrets with him that we will never fully know.
Production quality also carries the Broadway stamp. Ben Stanton's lighting design divides and connects space well where needed while offering a gentle and appropriate nod to the story's graphic novel origins. David Zinn's set design works in striking unison with the progression of the story, beginning with confusion and clutter which, after a brief separation, lifts to reveal a realized and complete picture. Just as Alison begins to see a clearer picture of her family life we're able to see it with her.
Fun Home only plays at The 5th Avenue Theatre through to July 30th, so opportunities to see this unconventional gem are limited. The Jersey Boys and Mama Mia tours will always be around somewhere, but shows like this one are becoming exceedingly rare. Catch it while it's still here. - C. Jefferson Thom
For tickets and more information, go to: https://www.5thavenue.org
Mr. Thom lives in Seattle with his wife Lori and their terrier Tug where he walks dogs and is a tour guide for the Seattle Underground. He is also a playwright who loves traveling to other countries and playing the armchair historian.