Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
The touring production previously visited the area, anchored by two brilliant performances: Kate Shindle as Alison Bechdel and Robert Petkoff as her father Bruce. The direction by Sam Gold was tighter than this locally produced version, befitting a product just short of Broadway quality. All the elements that exceeded what American Stage brings to the table mattered naught when the show's emotional core was lost in the barn that is Tampa's 2500+ seat Carol Morsani Hall. American Stage's Raymond James Theatre is more intimate, a much better venue to let this magnificent musical wash all over you.
Fun Home is a memoir, based on cartoonist Alison Bechdel's graphic novel chronicling real events within her family. We see her at three stages of her life: as small Alison, about age 10; as Medium Alison, a college student just beginning to realize she is gay; and as 43-year-old Alison, trying to make sense of her family history/tragedy.
This is a strong production. Many in the cast are local, several I have not encountered before, and include Adrianne Hick as Alison, Mollie Posnik as Medium Alison, and Mercy Roberts as Small Alison. Tesori's music and Kron's lyrics are so perfect that they guide the personalities toward oneness. Still, the three actresses do have a nice chemistry across the ages. Ms. Hick seems a little younger than the 43 she identifies at the top of the show, but this is not a major problem. She finds the right balances between personal strength and total confusion regarding what went out of control within her family. Ms. Posnik captures the wonder of discovering physical delights for the first time and "Changing My Major" is a highlight. Mercy Roberts is a major talent, able to capture the child while having the stage presence and singing chops to do justice to my favorite song, "Ring of Keys."
David Mann is Bruce, a closeted gay man disintegrating before our eyes, which escalates when daughter Alison begins to self-identify as a lesbian. Mann is solid throughout, his mad scene finale painful in this small venue. Kristin Carbone is mother and wife Helen. For most of the musical, she is passive from years of trying to compromise the reality of her marriage away. When she finally breaks apart in the song "Days and Days," she really connects with the audience. Brinley Degwert and Tanner Grant as Christian and John Bechdel, Alison's brothers, are both cast a little older than the original production, which I find a good decision, as it feels like they have more presence within the family.
Skyler Rosenthal is Joan, and Xavier Reyes plays a series of younger men who weave in and out of the story. None of these parts offer much in the way of opportunity for the actors.
Director Karla Hartley helps her cast get inside the emotions of the piece. Heather Krueger's choreography for the "Fun Home commercial" might be a little tighter, but these are young children and the looseness is how children dance. Set design is by Charles Murdock Lucas. I like how 43-year-old Alison's studio is isolated from the rest of the playing area, helping to define time shifts. Costumes by Dina Perez and lighting by Mike Wood are both effective. Music direction is by Jeremy D. Silverman on piano, with Melanie Downs on percussion.
Ms. Tesori and Ms. Kron perfectly capture the experience of coming out as gay or lesbian. I've been excited about seeing Fun Home again, and I was not disappointed. I was emotionally turned inside out. I hope it registers as strongly with others as it does with me. Thank you to American Stage for this very fine production.
Fun Home, through August 18, 2019, at American Stage, 163 Third Street North, St. Petersburg FL. For more information, visit www.americanstage.org.