Stories about coming of age and learning from one’s past are universal, no matter the specific circumstances. The musical, “Fun Home,” affectingly chronicles a woman’s discovery of her sexual orientation while attempting to understand her father’s emotional distance and ultimate suicide.
The show is based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel/memoir about growing up in a small town with a tyrannical, volatile father. Bruce Bechdel was a high school English teacher who also ran a funeral home in the house. The family jokingly abbreviated it to “fun home,” an ironic label because of the dysfunction present.
When Alison had her first lesbian affair in college, she came out to her father, who couldn’t handle it. Later Alison learned it was Bruce’s hidden homosexuality that hampered their relationship and possibly led to his death.
Composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist Lisa Kron follow the book’s non-chronological structure as Alison looks back over her life. It’s an emotional journey, seasoned with humor, examining the human condition’s joys and sorrows.
In this touring production, Kate Shindle makes a moving adult Alison, putting the pieces together about her father while hovering invisibly in the remembered scenes. Robert Petkoff gives Bruce multiple dimensions, boldly displaying his demons but easily garnering sympathy for them. Both shine in big numbers defining their aspirations and regrets.
It’s the middle Alison, however, that really drives the story. Abby Corrigan’s delightfully awkward, charmingly exuberant coming out, after her first night with fellow student Joan, expresses all the marvels of first love. With Karen Eilbacher as forthright, feisty Joan, the two are audience favorites. As the young Alison, Alessandra Baldacchino’s spunky energy is engaging, although she sings her big solo, about being attracted to a delivery woman, in a curiously restrained manner.
Susan Moniz adds depth to the rather thankless role of Bruce’s wife Helen, while Robert Hager nicely differentiates four men who catch Bruce’s eye. Pierson Salvador and Lennon Nate Hammond have fun in several upbeat numbers as Alison’s younger brothers.
The show has many quiet moments that played better in its original small venue. Director Sam Gold’s reworking for the tour’s larger auditoriums is sometimes too intimate for maximum effect. But judging from Tuesday’s audience response, the material still offers a deeply involving experience.
What: “Fun Home” – Broadway tour
Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Info: 919-680-2787 or dpacnc.com