Editor’s Note: This story was published when “Fun Home” first debuted, in 2015. It’s a great review, and AfterEllen is headed to see the show for the first time this week during Dallas Pride!
I have loved musicals for as long as I can remember. I’m pretty sure my parents watched movies like Annie with me since the moment my eyes could focus on something, not to mention the fact that all Disney movies are technically musical movies, so I guess that’s where it all started. My earliest stage musical memory is seeing a school production of Li’l Abner. It was a weird experience, for a six-year-old, enjoying a story in a way I was somewhat unfamiliar with, and having it be performed by people I knew, people I saw every day. According to my mother, I leaned over and whispered, “I can do that.” And though it took a few years before I found a community theatre, I did end up being in many a musical in my youth, and loving every minute of it.
While I consider myself a tried-and-true theatre nerd, of the previous queer ladies that are on Broadway, RENT is the only one I’m intimately familiar with. (I missed If/Then‘s run even though I live in NYC because I’m a loser.) Not that there are that many to choose from. As much fun as it is to ship Galinda and Elphaba in Wicked, and even though “We’re Not Done” from Lin Manuel Miranda‘s Bring it On musical is one of the best love songs ever sung between two women not actually in love, there isn’t enough LGBT lady representation on Broadway, plain and simple.
Fun Home the Musical, composed by Jeanine Tesori with book and lyrics by out playwright Lisa Kron, is the representation we’ve been waiting for, and part of what makes that true is that the show as a whole is about so much more than its lesbian main character. Fun Home takes you on one woman’s journey; her conflicted childhood, her complicated relationship with her family, her journey of self-discovery. She just happens to be a lesbian, just like her dad happened to keep their house looking like museum, just like her family happens to own a funeral home. All just pieces of the puzzle, threads in the tapestry.
Fun Home, at its core, is a musical about a family; Alison, of course, her brothers, (Zell Steele Morrow and Oscar Williams), her mother (Judy Kuhn), and her father Bruce (Michael Cerveris), a high school English teacher and funeral home owner, who refurbishes and curates old houses and keeps handsome young men on hand (Joel Perez x 3). It’s about this family, picture-perfect on the outside but decaying on the inside, not unlike Bruce’s funeral home customers. It’s about them all trying to relate to each other, try to live with secrets and differences, and trying to find themselves and each other in their small pocket of Pennsylvania.
Now, for people who only dabble in musical theatre, I have to warn you: This isn’t Mamma Mia, or Jersey Boys, or Rock of Ages. All fun musicals, but none totally original. All of them are what they call jukebox musicals: stories based around existing songs, instead of songs created for a story. It’s a subtle difference, I suppose, but a difference nonetheless.
If I had to compare it to another musical, it would be Next to Normal. One of my favorites, especially of musicals to come out in the past 10 years, Next to Normal is dark and complex and real. While shows like Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera aren’t exactly sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, they have more of a classically tragic feel to them. Next to Normal and Fun Home share a familial sense of drama and sadness, a more approachable kind of tragedy than the French revolution or getting kidnapped and trained for the opera by someone who may or may not be the ghost of your dead father.