by Lorie Lewis Ham
StageWorks Fresno’s production of Fun Home opened this past weekend and is the regional premiere of this amazing show! It will be playing at the Dan Pessano Theatre through July 15. Fun Home is a musical adapted from cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir of the same name. It was adapted into a musical by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, and won a Tony award for Best Musical in 2015.
Fun Home is about Bechdel’s discovery of her own sexuality, her relationship with her gay father Bruce (Terry Lewis), and her attempts to understand the mysteries surrounding his life and death. The story is told in non-linear vignettes featuring Alison at different ages, and narrated by the adult Alison (Haley White) character. Fun Home is the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist. Alison was born in 1960 and the snippets we see of her life are with small Alison (Novi Alexander) who is 10, and medium Alison (Thani Brant) who is a freshman in college. When we see small Alison we also get to know her brothers Christian (Lucas Stephens) and John (Leo Jimesanagnos). The rest of the cast is made up of her mother Helen (Amalie Larsen), Adam Chavez who plays various young men who Bruce becomes involved with, and Joan (Madeline Rydberg) who is Alison’s first girlfriend.
Bruce’s life is a tortured one, living in a world where he is ashamed and afraid to show who he really is. He tries hard to get Alison to be “normal” as well so she won’t embarrass herself. While it is obvious he loves his kids, he is a very divided person and at times a horrible father given to bursts of anger. Helen seems to simply accept this as her lot in life, and there is even a song that says if we can’t see the chaos, it doesn’t exist.
This is a brilliant and heart wrenching show that is wonderfully performed and directed. There are also happy and even funny moments. The family business is a funeral home, which the family has dubbed “Fun Home,” and it provides most of the show’s comedy and is where the title comes from. There are sweet and beautiful moments, like when Alison sees her first lesbian as a child and she realizes it’s okay to be herself–at this point she and adult Alison sing one of my favorite songs in the show, “Ring of Keys.” Another great moment is when medium Alison realizes she’s a lesbian and sings “Changing My Major.”
While I enjoyed the music and it was well sung, this show is more about the story than the music, and the story is incredible and one you won’t want to miss. The acting is top notch-Terry Lewis is incredible as he brings to life the very complicated character of Bruce, at times kind of creepy and angry, and at other times sweet and charming. Haley White brings adult Alison to life perfectly as she shares the story of her childhood. The young actors were all delightful. Small and medium Alison are very talented and I hope we get to see more of them in local theatre in the future. Thani Brant blew me away with her voice. Adam Chavez did a good job as the man of many characters, and Amalie is always a delight to watch and to hear her lovely voice.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the wonderful live orchestra and the amazing J. Daniel Herring, whose directing skills put together all the pieces of this amazing show.
Fun Home is on stage at the Dan Pessano Theatre, 2770 E International in Fresno, CA (NE Corner Chestnut & International) until July 15. Tickets can be purchased on their website and while they can be purchased at the door, it was recommended to purchase them ahead of time as they are going quickly. Don’t miss your chance to see this incredible show!