This exquisite, emotionally impactful musical is drawn from the cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir about discovering her own identity as a lesbian and, as a consequence, discovering her father’s hidden homosexuality shortly before he apparently took his own life. Structured as a memory play, adapters Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori divide Alison among three actors: The adult cartoonist (played in this top-notch touring cast by Kate Shindle) looks back on herself as tomboy tween (Alessandra Baldacchino) and college freshman (Abby Corrigan), all while trying to make sense of her memories of her icily distant father, Bruce (Robert Petkoff), whose obsession with keeping up appearances had a toxic effect on his family.
Reconceived by director Sam Gold and scenic designer David Zinn from the in-the-round Broadway production to fit into proscenium-style touring houses like the Oriental, the new staging somewhat decentralizes adult Alison, who’s often necessarily off to the side of her own recollections. But it also comes with some elegant new visual surprises: When Corrigan’s “Medium Alison” brings college girlfriend Joan (Karen Eilbacher) home to meet the parents late in the show, Zinn reveals a realistic rendering of the Bechdels’ museum-like home for the first time, a remarkably effective moment.
Shindle’s introspective Alison makes an empathetic, capable audience conduit, while Petkoff finds the sympathy in Bruce’s lamentable self-destructive situation; Chicago’s own Susan Moniz makes a meal of Alison’s long-suffering mother, Helen, who gets one of the show’s most cathartic songs in “Days and Days”—one of 15 moments Tesori and Kron plucked from Bechdel’s memoir to turn into a dynamic and delicious score. With a far too short Chicago stay, Fun Home turns Bechdel’s deceptively simple line drawings into a musical of simply inventive storytelling.
Oriental Theatre. Music by Jeanine Tesori. Book and lyrics by Lisa Kron. Directed by Sam Gold. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins; no intermission.