ON THE RECORD: Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron's Fun Home

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23 Feb 2014

Cover art
Cover art

This week's column discusses the original cast album of Fun Home, the new musical by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron.


Fun Home [PS Classics]

Every once in a great while you come across a musical so moving that you just want to laugh and cry. Welcome to Fun Home, with music by Jeanine Tesori and words by Lisa Kron.

Dashing from one of the final previews, I ran headlong into the composer in the invitingly renovated grand lobby of the Public Theater. (Usually it is best to avoid the author — or director or producer — on the way out.) All I could think of to say, with the moving final sequence still cemented on my emotions, was that I was astonished. It was apparent that they had worked long and hard to develop the piece, I told her, but all I could say — in that moment — was that every choice they'd made came across perfectly.

Fun Home played at the Newman Theater within the Public complex, which is the same space where A Chorus Line first appeared. That musical, back in 1975 — before all the publicity, before the cast recording — left audiences stunned for its immediacy, its emotional impact and its originality. There I was at the Newman almost 40 years later, feeling precisely the same. Fun Home, for a variety of reasons, will perhaps not have the same afterlife as Michael Bennett's gypsy musical, but it is every bit as moving as A Chorus Line, with what seems to me a considerably more accomplished score.

The original cast recording, from PS Classics, presents Fun Home in all its brilliance and allows me — and you, dear reader — to examine why it is so good. But dissecting the score is only moderately helpful. Far better for me to simply suggest that you treat yourself to the CD, now.

Fun Home is adapted from the graphic novel of the same title by cartoonist Alison Bechdal. ("A Family Tragicomic" was the subtitle.) Alison, the protagonist, is a cartoonist. Kron — author of the well-remembered Well — draws her in a refreshingly direct style, telling us up front that "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." That gets our attention, I'll say, and it never lapses thereafter.

We watch the present-day Alison (at 43) watching the eight-year-old Alison trying to bond with her decidedly unusual father, Bruce. Simultaneously, the 17-year-old Alison goes off to college, where she comes out; Bruce commits suicide almost immediately thereafter. Kron and Tesori have written the piece — ingeniously staged at the Public by Sam Gold — so that scenes interlock while time and space shifts; we often have three Alisons simultaneously in view. This can be confusing and unconvincing on stage, as other playwrights and directors have discovered. In the case of Fun Home, though, the several strands form together into a powerful cord with an air of inevitability.


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