If you take anything out of this review, it should be that I not only recommend that you see the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center’s production of “Fun Home,” but that I think attendance should be mandatory.
“Fun Home” is an autobiographical coming-of-age story that breaks the musical mold. This production explores the life of Alison Bechdel, a lesbian cartoonist who grew up with a closeted father in the small town of Beech Creek, Pa. Her family looks perfect from the outside, but there are problems under the surface. For example, Bechdel’s father committed suicide soon after she came out to him. Some plot points are made clear early on, but the audience discovers others as Bechdel herself discovers them.
The show is based on the graphic memoir of the same title, and often the two blend together. Bechdel wrote the book to wide acclaim and, in it, we see her try to process the events of her life, most pressingly through her relationship with her father. In “Fun Home” the musical, Bechdel is on stage as an adult, creating her memoir, trying to remember the events that formed her identity
If you have read the graphic memoir, you can close your eyes and picture it while you listen to the stirring notes from leading actress Allison Mickelson. The two merge seamlessly into one—because they are one. For sticklers of the maintenance of plot between book and show, this musical will bring you an almost irrepressible joy because, in this case, one isn’t better than the other; they complement each other.
The music is soaring and the cast delivers it beautifully. Kelly Tanberg, who plays young Alison, gives a particularly rousing performance. Though only 11 years old, she has a powerful stage presence and her voice carries throughout the theater. Mickelson, who plays Alison Bechdel as she writes the book, also has an incredible voice that blew me away during the performance.
The show is an odd choice for a conservative town, but it is one I wholeheartedly support. Telling the story of a lesbian cartoonist and her sexual awakening can introduce people to homosexuality and the emotional weight that coming out carries. As a lesbian woman, seeing another woman’s story portrayed in such a powerful way was liberating. Though our life experiences are different, it remained relatable and pure. I felt deeply, across the range of human emotion. I was in Colorado Springs, one of the most conservative towns in the country, watching simulated gay sex on stage-it was exhilarating and redeeming.
Some have taken issue with this being the show that introduces queer stories to an audience that doesn’t often see them; one of the most prominent gay characters could not be described as a good person. Bechdel’s father likely had sex with teenaged boys while married, and he definitely had affairs with men. His demeanor towards his children was complicated as well; he was often an absent and over-demanding father, obsessing over his home almost manically.
However, throughout the show, Bechdel attempts to reconcile and figure him out. As the show ended, my most pressing thought was that he was “bad” because he couldn’t be open about his sexuality, an important internal conflict that others may miss.
If enough students show up to see this fantastic musical, it could help shows like “Fun Home” continue at the FAC. At the very least, you will have an amazing night of theatre where you least expect it.