If you’re a kid whose father runs a funeral home, you abbreviate his place of employment as “The Fun Home,” and you think that’s pretty funny.
If you are cartoonist Alison Bechdel reflecting back on that childhood, “Fun Home” becomes the ironic title of your graphic memoir, because as it turns out, the Bechdel house on Maple Avenue in small-town Pennsylvania was a not-so-fun place to grow up.
The stage adaptation of “Fun Home,” which won a 2015 Tony for best new musical, made its Twin Cities debut Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre. The show has managed to succeed commercially because it combines edgy subject matter (coming-out stories) and a creative nonlinear narrative (three actresses play Alison in Lisa Kron’s book) with fairly conventional show tunes by Jeanine Tesori.
It’s a show that should be seen, and yet there were occasions Tuesday night when I wished “Fun Home” was a play rather than a musical. The touring cast was at its weakest during full ensemble numbers; the balance of sound between band and singers was off, and the vocal harmonies were shaky. Thus, the moments where some songs interrupt the narrative flow — especially a botched faux-disco number — were especially jarring.
But musicals are the spoonfuls of sugar that make thematic theater more appealing to the masses, and “Fun Home” tells two variations of an important story. One arc follows Bechdel, who appears onstage as a precocious kid (an adorable Alessandra Baldacchino), an awkward college student (Abby Corrigan, outshining her co-stars) and as an adult (former beauty queen Kate Shindle), serving as a narrator while roving the stage with her sketch board.
While Bechdel evolved healthily from a tomboy kid to Gay Union college student to lesbian activist (she’s the Bechdel behind “The Bechdel Test,” a metric for assessing the substance of women’s film roles), her father, Bruce, stayed more or less in the closet until committing suicide. Onstage, Robert Petkoff’s Bruce alternates between an antique collector who gushes over William Morris wallpaper and preens before a mirror (“I can still break a few hearts”), and a father so incapacitated by self-loathing that he cannot love his own children.
Garden-variety homophobia is not this family’s problem, and that uncomfortable twist ends up expanding “Fun Home’s” reach. In the penultimate scene, the two older Alisons switch places, and Shindle recalls one last time she went for a drive in her father’s truck, and neither had the guts to call each other out.
Patrons may find themselves reflecting on that aborted father/daughter conversation while waiting to exit a Hennepin Avenue parking ramp. Consider spending that time connecting with whatever loved one is in the car. Because every family has its uncomfortable silences, and you never know when it will be your last time to really talk.