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Concert Reviews:
"Fun Home" offers tragi-comic intrigue at the Fisher

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Wednesday, November 30, 2016

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Early in "Fun Home," 43-year-old Alison matter-of-factly informs us that her father "killed himself. And I became a lesbian cartoonist."

Is there any wonder why Alison Bechdel's graphic novel, from which "Fun Home" was adapted, was sub-titled "A family tragicomic?"

The winner of five Tony Awards on Broadway, "Fun Home" -- at Detroit's Fisher Theatre through Dec. 11 -- is sometimes fun, but not always. It's not exactly a musical, either -- more a drama with songs, albeit numbers short on form and melody. At an uninterrupted hour and 40 minutes it starts to feel long towards the end, and its grim undercurrent makes it hard to settle into any sort of comfortable flow as it uses its humor to set up knockout emotional sucker punches.

But "Fun Home" is also without question unique and intriguing, a portrayal of family and primarily a father-daughter dysfunction that resonates beyond its themes of sexual identity. At its heart "Fun Home" is about Alison reconciling her relationship with dad Bruce -- who, she learns during her freshman year at Oberlin, has had continuous affairs with other men since his own college days, which was responsible for a relationship that was both tight and tentative.

The vehicle that makes "Fun Home" ultimately succeed is the telling of the story by three Alison's -- Kate Shindle's stoic, subtly played adult, Alessandra Baldacchino's spitfire 10-year-old Small Alison and Abby Corrigan's convincingly awkward, matriculating medium Alison. Shindle in particular roams the stage like a specter, portraying the real-life Bechdel writing "Fun Home" and remembering her past via the other two, delivering spot-on commentary like a one-woman Greek chorus.

As father Bruce -- a combination high school teacher, mortician ("Fun" stands for "Funeral") and home restoration enthusiast -- Robert Petkoff ably conveys a split personality, clearly closeted even after Michigan native Lisa Kron's book reveals his truth. Petkoff depicts Bruce's unraveling throughout the show without hurrying, which makes the character's tragic fate feel that much more believable.

For Best Musical winner, however, "Fun Home" lacks, well, the kind of memorable music you'd expect. It has its moments -- particularly "Come to the Fun Home," a faux commercial Small Alison and her two brothers make for the funeral parlor, the big pop production fantasy number "Raincoat of Love" and Medium Alison's afterglow anthem "Changing My Major." Mostly, however, the songs simply house lyrics that push the story forward and don't really hold up outside the plotlines.

And the finale "Flying Away" is burdened by cumbersome vocal parts for each of the three Alisons that trip over and eclipse each other rather than put a cap on the story.

But "Fun Home" is far weightier than a mere song-and-dance production, and it strikes a deep and convincing chord about both individual and familial dynamics.

"Fun Home" runs through Dec. 11. at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Tickets are $39-$130. Call 313-872-1000 or visit broadwayindetroit.com.

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

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