“Fun Home,” Based on Graphic Memoir, Finds a Place on Broadway

"Fun Home" is a delicate portrait of family dysfunction that has only gotten richer in the 18 months since it premiered at The Public Theater.

Many members of the Off-Broadway cast return for the Circle in the Square transfer, including Beth Malone, Sydney Lucas, Michael Cerveris and Judy Kuhn. Heralded as the first mainstream musical with a lesbian lead character, “Fun Home” is based on the 2006 graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, creator of the comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For.”

For Alison and her brothers, “Fun Home” was sardonic shorthand for “funeral home.” That was the family business as the kids came of age in Beech Creek, Pa. Bruce Bechdel, Alison’s father, was gay. He committed suicide about four months after Alison came out: “I didn’t know, Dad … I had no way of knowing that my beginning would be your end,” Malone’s adult version of Alison explains as “Fun Home” begins.

“Fun Home” jumps around in time, clocking in at 100 minutes without an intermission. We follow Small Alison, at age 9 (Lucas earned an Obie for this performance); Medium Alison, as a student at Oberlin (Emily Skeggs, succeeding Alexandra Socha); and introspective grown-up Alison (Malone), who tries to neutralize her demons by sketching the events of her childhood.

Jeanine Tesori’s music still resonates (the sharp-as-a-razor book is by Lisa Kron). Crowd-pleasing comic turns have Small Alison and her brothers (Oscar Williams and Zell Steele Morrow, both talented mop-tops) imagining a TV commercial for the “Fun Home.” In a fantasy sequence, Lucas recasts the people in her orbit as members of The Partridge Family.

Cerveris (with Lucas, below) chronicles this loving father’s slow-motion disintegration with poise. Bruce Bechdel supplements the family’s income with a teaching job and is arrested after having affairs with his male students. Wife Helen (Kuhn) knows Bruce is gay, and in the agonizing “Days and Days,” she urges Alison not to “give away” her time, as she has.

In “Changing My Major,” Skeggs is a knot of excitement and terror as she describes her first love affair (the returning Roberta Colindrez is excellent as Joan, the college girlfriend). Lucas, an inch or two taller than we last saw her, is achingly genuine with “Ring of Keys,” in which she experiences the first inklings of attraction after seeing a butch delivery woman.

Malone, as the narrator, frames the action as if she were describing one of her drawings: “Caption: Dad goes out. Dad gets a newspaper. Dad goes ... cruising?“

As the 43-year-old incarnation of the heroine, Malone keeps a cool distance from events, though I sensed that she was more at ease this go around, particularly in the winning scene where she “watches” her younger self being seduced for the first time.

Director Sam Gold (“Seminar”) redesigned the staging for the Circle in the Square. A piano, coffin or chaise floats up through the floor on lifts, then descends when it’s no longer needed. Toward the climax, we get a sense of what the family home looked like; shortly after, the stage is bare, except for adult Alison at her drawing table.

“Fun Home” is a masterful achievement—a tragic musical about learning to see one’s parents as flawed human beings, and a story as raw and real as any on stage.

“Fun Home,” with an open-ended run at Circle in the Square, 235 W. 50th St. Tickets: $75-$150. Call Telecharge, 212-239-6200.

Follow Robert Kahn on Twitter@RobertKahn

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