NEW YORK (AP) — The best commercial for a Broadway show this season isn't on TV. It's on Broadway itself, in the stunning, deeply moving "Fun Home."
Three siblings ranging in age from 6 to 10, whose father runs a funeral home in Pennsylvania, perform a mock ad with a handwritten, Motown-flavored song that is sheer exuberance itself.
"Our caskets/Are satin lined/And we got so many models guaranteed to blow your mind," the 10-year-old sings into a can of lemon Pledge acting as a microphone, while his sister boogies and his 6-year-old brother shimmies.
"Come to the Fun Home/Ample parking down the street/Here at the Fun Home/Body prep that can't be beat," the three sing in a song that rhymes "satisfied" with "formaldehyde." Was it mentioned that they're dancing over and around a coffin?
The song "Come to the Fun Home" is one of many highlights in a fresh musical that seems like an impossible sell on Broadway but hooks you instantly with its honesty and beauty. It's actually the best commercial for what Broadway can do.
"Fun Home" is an adaptation from Alison Bechdel's graphic novel about growing up in a funeral home with a closeted gay dad. A closeted gay dad who has an untimely death. It should be theatrical suicide, and yet few shows are as moving, relatable and funny.
The 100-minute musical — the title is an abbreviation for the business Bechdel's father runs — played for four months off-Broadway last year in a traditional proscenium stage with much of the same cast and opened Sunday at Circle in the Square Theatre with a seven-piece band.
It has only gotten better in its theater-in-the-round format, with director Sam Gold using every inch of the stage and even the aisles. Furniture — sinks, doors and coffins — by designer David Zinn pops up from below the stage and sofas, a car and a bed are spun about. In a play that lingers on death, sometimes the show just has actors onstage amid empty spaces, the voids speaking volumes. (Zinn also nails the '70s costumes, from bowl cuts to awkward plaid to the ill-fitting pants.)
"Fun Home," with a book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori, switches between three Alison Bechdels — as a 9-year-old (Sydney Lucas), as a 19-year-old college student (Emily Skeggs) and at 43 (Beth Malone), the artist looking back. The adult Alison is our guide, walking like a ghost through her own past, sifting her memory for clues about her father's secrets.
Her father, Bruce, is played by Michael Cerveris, who offers one of the most complex, heartbreaking performances of the season. Bruce is fussy, exacting, weak, loving, caring and very anxious, like a trapped animal. He has a simmering anger and also a deep romanticism and sometimes both fire at the same time. Cerveris manages to make him utterly sympathetic.
Bruce's descent into suicidal depression happens as Alison is flowering into a woman and her realization that she's a lesbian. Lucas gets to sing "Ring of Keys" about her first longing for another woman, and Skeggs has the hysterically lovesick "Changing My Major," after her first sexual encounter.
The adult Alison, Malone, sings "Telephone Wire," a wry lament about missed conversations with a parent that any child can relate to. And Judy Kuhn, who plays the mother, sings the heartbreaking "Days and Days" to her daughter, with the warning, "I didn't raise you to give away your days like me."
There are sweeping love stories on Broadway this season and light comedies, too. That's fine, but make sure "Fun Home" is on your list as well. Rarely do you find a funeral home you're unhappy to leave.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits