If you were to look up a list of musicals with LGBTQ woman, the results would be pretty sad. Almost all of these characters are side characters, and many of them are reduced to stereotypes. Even those who are not stereotypical seem to be underdeveloped and/or get very little stage time. There are a couple exceptions to this, but I have only heard of one musical that is truly exceptional in telling the story of the modern LGBTQ woman: Fun Home.
Fun Home is based on the memoir of cartoonist Alison Bechdel. The basis of the story is summarized best by Alison in the show, “My dad and I both grew up in the same small Pennsylvania town. And he was gay. And I was gay. And he killed himself. And I… Became a lesbian cartoonist.” This is not a spoiler, the quote is actually from the second song. Fun Home is not a chronological story, instead, it exists on three timelines scattered throughout the show, telling the story of three Alisons: Small Alison (around 10), Medium Alison (18), and Alison (43). Alison is looking back at herself as a little girl and as a new college student as she tries to make sense of her past and write her graphic memoir, also titled Fun Home. The musical explores themes such as sexuality, gender roles, the complexities of father-daughter relationships, the importance of not hiding who you are (as seen by the contrasting stories of Alison and her dad), and so much more.
I saw the Fun Home national tour at the Boston Opera House in October. I had already listened to the soundtrack several times and had high expectations for the live production. Even with these expectations, I was shocked at just how wonderful the show was. I knew I loved the songs and plot of the show, which were beautiful in the album and tour alike, but there was so much more than that which made seeing the tour an amazing experience. For one, the blocking and choreography were fantastic, as was the set. The original Fun Home is staged a bit differently to fit a circular stage, and from what I’ve seen in pictures and video clips, I prefer the regular stage because the actors are never facing away from audience members, so I’m grateful to have seen the tour version.
I also prefer many of the tour cast members to the original broadway cast. Abby Corrigan, who plays Medium Alison in the tour, was absolutely phenomenal. Her endearingly awkward portrayal of the character made it impossible not to root for Medium Alison in her journey of self discovery as she figures out she is a lesbian and embraces her new life. The same thing is true of the equally phenomenal Victoria Janicki, who plays Alison’s first girlfriend, Joan. Both Corrigan and Janicki added an air of authenticity with their incredible acting and onstage chemistry. While I was especially wowed by these two actresses and their characters, the entire cast was amazing. Getting to see each of their perspectives on the characters play out on stage was a fascinating experience. I had the privilege of meeting Victoria Janicki (Joan), Noelle Hogan (Small Alison understudy), and Robert Petkoff (Alison’s father, Bruce) at the stage door after the show. All of them were as kind as they were talented.
Ever since I saw Fun Home, I’ve been completely obsessed. Like I said, I loved the show before, but after seeing it, I haven’t been able to listen to anything else. And when I’m not listening to it, I’m probably thinking about it. I could go on and on about how much the show means to me, the rich meaning behind each song lyric, and the huge step forward it is for representation of LGBTQ women in theater, but this review doesn’t need another ten pages. In short I will say, seeing Fun Home was an extraordinary experience, and I would highly recommend seeing it if you can.
It’s currently touring in Rochester NY until November 19th. It then moves to Tampa FL where it tours from November 28th to December 3rd. Additional tour locations have not been announced yet, so it is unclear if it will be coming back near Massachusetts any time, but if you ask me this show is well worth the trip to New York. It’s at least worth the couple of minutes it takes to find the cast album for free on youtube or spotify. Fun Home opened and closed on Broadway in 2015, so it’s probably not at the top of most people’s list of musicals to check out. Still, I would heavily emphasize to everyone who missed it during it’s run, especially now that it’s back in theaters: please do not sleep on this incredible show. Fun Home is truly like nothing else on Broadway, and I believe that there is at least one character or moment in the show that speaks to everyone.