Review: ‘Fun Home’ puts the “fun” in funeral

The NDSU Theatre Arts transforms this powerhouse of a musical into an intimate, edgy spectacle

Grant Ayers | The Spectrum
The cast was in their element performing one of the final shows of a two-week run.

Captivating. Hilarious. Dark. Dazzling. Powerful.

If the goal of “Fun Home” is to address the topical subject matter in today’s climate, the cast did exactly that – as well as bring a wise sense of humor to the stage in the best way possible. This event was one of the rare occasions that will turn a first-time musical attendee into a fan of everything to come from these performers.

Having clocked in at just under two hours, “Fun Home” combines deeply composed character psychology and motives with fast-paced storytelling in a lighthearted manner. Dealing with the hardest topics to talk about with friends and family, this heavy tale is told as if it were crafted by a young spirit – carefree and cheerful.

Upon entering the musical, guests immediately sensed they were in for a very intimate showing, as the room only seated a mere 70 patrons and nearly sold out. While this setting restricted a large audience, it made every attendee feel even more important.

The Tony Award-winning musical sets the scene with Alison (Abigail Walker), a lesbian cartoonist, drafting sketches of pivotal moments from her childhood in rural Pennsylvania. This is her way of coping with her father’s suicide, and slowly coming to terms with the comfort of not being able to always understand, just as not everyone understood her.

As the story progresses, the father Bruce (Casey Hennessy) displays a sense of tyranny to his family that slowly spirals out of control, only wanting the best for everyone close to him. His maniacal tendency for perfectionism begins to leak through the cracks of his image he has worked so hard to keep intact. While Alison begins to discover her true self away at college, he does everything in his power to leave her with as much knowledge as possible.

The musical showcases the pivotal moments of Alison’s life in a creative and unique manner, by tripling her role with two more actresses. The roles of Small and Medium Alison (portrayed by Isabella Andrews and Karine Otteson) exhibit the highs and lows of her childhood, as well as the personal growth she developed over her life. What is undoubtedly one of the most emotional scenes in the musical is presented when all three versions of Alison are on the stage together as she confronts her own sexuality for the first time to herself and her parents.

One standout part of this event to take away was the chemistry between the actors and actresses. As this was one of their final performances of this musical’s run, everyone came across as if they’ve already been family for years. This chemistry is to thank from none other than director and choreographer Marc Devine, as he shows the audience that these “characters” are much deeper than we presumed. One of the most ambitious musical numbers states it perfectly, “Everything’s alright when we’re together”.

While the acting was stellar, another highlight was the music that went along with the story. The orchestra grasped and pulled at the audience’s heartstrings as the company belted out tunes in perfection. As the final musical piece was sung, members of the audience on both sides had tears rolling down their cheeks.

While the orchestra and the company both performed at an astonishing level, they did not always work together. Songs at the beginning didn’t seem to synchronize perfectly, as the audience was unaware of the pacing and when to applaud. As the show progressed, the numbers seemed to have a much clearer sense of ending.

During the final moments of the musical, every audience member was on the edge of their seats. As the final lines were given, the audience roared in applause at what they just witnessed. It was clear that every member of the company has crafted their role to perfection, giving it everything they have in the most effortless format.

This musical superbly represents the emotions and situations that every college student is facing in the rawest form, as they navigate through the highlights and lowlights of their childhood as they enter adulthood. We face down our deepest insecurities and fears during the best years of our lives, always striving to come out better on the other side.

Review: 4.5/5

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