Friday, September 25, 2015

New York, Day Three:  "Fun Home" and "An American in Paris"


Though persecution against LGBT people is still far too common (especially for the Ts), it seems clear we have passed some manner of social/cultural tipping point where most people realize it’s as useless to try to change people’s sexual orientation as it would be to attempt to alter their handedness, and that it’s time to move on. I say this in relation to Fun Home not because this incredibly queer  musical (the story of lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s upbringing in a funeral home run by her deeply-closeted father) won the Tony this year and is packing them in eight times a week at the Circle in the Square.  No, it’s because there is a moment in the show when Alison’s mother spills the details on her husband’s dalliances, remonstrating herself for never sufficiently noticing what was going on, and giving her daughter permission to be exactly who she is, singing “I didn’t raise you to give away your days like me.”

This small, genuine, heartbreaking moment does exactly what art is supposed to do: bring the tragedies and triumphs of life into scale, where we can gain some perspective from them. From it, we can infer the millions of individual, yet ultimately identical, conversations that are taking place – and will take place – around the world.

It’s this honesty that I believe converts more mainstream theatergoers into fans who spread the word and keep the sales of Fun Home at 100% of capacity week in and week out.   There will always be some walkouts, I suppose, when someone buys a ticket to the Tony winner, not realizing exactly how queer it’s going to be, but I imagine there are also quite a few people who will be shocked not just by the story and characters, but by just how genuinely human those characters are, and how universal is their story.  (Were any of us ever perfectly understood by our parents?)

The show is conducted in the round (actually, in the rectangle), so we get a 360-degree view of this Pennsylvania family:  Helen (Judy Kuhn), her husband Bruce (Michael Cerveris and their three children, Christian (Oscar Williams), John (Zell Steele Morrow) and Alison, played at three different ages by Sydney Lucas, Emily Skeggs and Beth Malone.  All are wonderful.

My only problem with the show is composer Jeanine Tesori’s music.  Though there are some terrific, memorable tunes (especially “Ring of Keys,” which Sydney Lucas killed at this year’s Tony Awards ceremony), there’s not a lot to hum here.  But I’m not sure hummability is the point when you are trying to tell a story like this one.  Humanity is. And that you will find during every moment of Fun Home.

If you just read the above review of Fun Home, and are seeking a significantly less queer show to take your mother or grandmother to, An American in Paris will probably fit the bill.  Sure, you – hip, young (even if only at heart), trend-seeking – will likely be bored by the very conventional choreography, the cheesy story (three guys all in love with the same girl!) and the very ordinary (though flashy) sets and costumes.  On the other hand, it’s hard not to be moved by the incredible music of George Gershwin or by the skill of the dancers.

But given the many other amazing shows currently on the board both on Broadway and off, even Grandma will forgive you for passing on this.

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