From left, Kate Shindle, Abby Corrigan and Alessandra Baldacchino appear as Alison Bechdel in “Fun Home.” (Courtesy Joan Marcus)

From left, Kate Shindle, Abby Corrigan and Alessandra Baldacchino appear as Alison Bechdel in “Fun Home.” (Courtesy Joan Marcus)

Personal and universal ‘Fun Home’ reopens Curran with panache

“He was gay. I was gay. He killed himself. I became a lesbian cartoonist,” announces the oldest of the three stage versions of Alison Bechdel early on in “Fun Home.”

The much-anticipated touring production of this Broadway musical, which premiered at New York’s Public Theater in 2013, signals the reopening, after two years, of producer Carole Shorenstein Hays’ beautifully renovated, 1922 Curran theater.

A rapturous opening-night crowd celebrated both events.

Based on Bechdel’s graphic memoir about a complex father-daughter relationship and a coming out and coming-of-age, “Fun Home” (book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, music by Jeanine Tesori, Sam Gold at the helm) is structurally inventive, funny and poignant, with several notably strong performances.

Adult Alison (a yearning Kate Shindle), 43, wanders watchfully, pen and sketch pad in hand, throughout scenes from her Pennsylvania childhood with a hyperactive, controlling Dad (a convincingly volatile Robert Petkoff) and lonely, unhappy mother (Susan Moniz, whose impassioned musical confession about her marriage is deeply unsettling).

Tough little-girl Alison wants Daddy’s attention, and also wants to wear jeans and sneakers instead of frilly dresses and Mary Janes; her song about suddenly seeing a dyke walking into a room and sensing a connection is, like Moniz’ anguished solo, a highlight, and little Alessandra Baldacchino is endearing in the role.

Later, Alison spies on her “medium” self (Abby Corrigan, charmingly awkward) during her first semester in college. With a new friend (a low-key, appealing Karen Eilbacher), medium Alison’s too involved in her new life to keep track of the dysfunction at “fun home,” the Bechdels’ nickname for the family business, a funeral home.

Like most homes, the Bechdels’ is fun only some of the time.

And this production is satisfying most, but not all, of the time. Several singing and dancing scenes with child Alison and her two brothers are shrill and too cutesy, distracting from Alison’s engrossing personal journey. And, aside from each principal character’s intense, beautifully sung solo, Tesori’s music eventually starts to sound all the same.

Ultimately, though, adult Alison’s struggle to put into comic-book form the mystery of her father’s death and to understand the ways in which he and she were inextricably linked ring true.

Don’t many of us, when it’s too late, regret that we failed to truly communicate with our parents? Gay or straight, don’t we have to find ourselves anew when we leave home? Bechdel’s story, in this stage rendition, feels universal.

REVIEW
Fun Home
Where: Curran, 445 Geary St., S.F.
When: 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 p.m. Sundays, closes Feb. 19
Tickets: $39 to $149
Contact: (415) 358-1220, sfcurran.comAbby CorriganAlessandra BaldacchinoAlison BechdelFun HomeJeanine TesoriKate ShindleLisa KronRobert PetkoffSam GoldSusan MonizTheater

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