BY JEFF LEVENE
Winner of three 2015 Tony’s including Best Musical, Fun Home is anything but your typical chorus line, show-stopping fare. Instead it’s one of Broadway’s most intimate and heartfelt pieces to come out of 21st century musical theatre, and Proud Mary’s production at the West Main Artists Co-Operative in Spartanburg encapsulates what makes this show such a unique and emotional force.
Adapted from the biographical tragicomic of the same name, Fun Home is the story of Alison Bechdel’s journey towards discovering and embracing her sexuality as a lesbian all while she simultaneously charts growing up with her father, a closeted gay man. As Alison comes out in an exuberant whirlwind of self discovery, her father becomes more unhinged that the same acceptance hasn’t been given him.
In this exploration of her past, an adult Alison recalls moments from growing up in the Bechdel Family Funeral home, as well as the time she spent coming out and discovering herself in college. And as more of these past moments are pieced together, we see the fuller, richer, and darker view of her father. Capturing hilarious family hijinx and reliving gut-punching emotional and verbal abuse and near-domestic violence incidents, Alison realizes the more she explores her past, the more complicated the picture becomes of who her father really was.
There’s a whole lot of nuance, and director Kate Roark successfully builds these layers through her direction of the shows many monologues. Within scenes, characters rarely expose the truth to each other, but in these monologues Roark lets the characters lay everything out to the audience, especially in the case of Alison. And the fact all three Allisons are fantastic doesn’t hurt either.
Samantha Eyler as adult Alison weaves in and out of scenes, studying each minute detail with a skeptical eye, but builds her reactions from recollection to recollection, culminating in heart-ache in the beautifully-sung Telephone Wire.
Eve Begelman as a young Alison is spunky, sweet, scared, hopeful, and confident, expertly navigating the essence of childhood under strict and oft problematic parents. Her freeing and powerful rendition of Ring of Keys is effortlessly soul soaring.
Paige Vasel’s performance of a college-aged Alison is a delight of adorable angst and resolute determination. And her performance of Changing My Major to Joan is an absolute gem. It’s filled with so much love with each adoring caress and glance she makes to Joan, reaching such a beautiful authentic sensuality that transcends to this almost spiritual star-crossed affection. And then she balances it all with this pin-pointedly perfect clumsiness of not trying to wake up the girl she just hooked up with so she can keep squealing with first love excitement.
Hannah Searcy’s Joan finds a great balance between being the coolest girl you ever had a crush on, and grounds it with these cute slightly gawky moments to remind us she’s just as young and in love as Alison.
Kelly Davis as Helen, the frustrated and broken mother of the Bechdel family, brings a porcupine exterior, with brief glances into a loving mother and once happy woman. This all culminates in her performance of Days and Days, one of the most emotional numbers of the show and sung with a heart-wrenching blend of gorgeous tones fading into furious belts.
As Alison’s two siblings, Josh Begelman and Noah Fitzer are hilarious, especially when they attempt to pitch their Funeral Home through a motown song commercial or geek out about the latest Herbie movie.
Andy Lecture tackles several roles with ease, the best probably being a stint as a Partridge Familyesque lead singer.
And as the father Bruce, Boyd Galloway does well to blend an aloof professionality with an ever growing erratic anger, but is actually best in some of his softest moments, such as a lullaby to his daughter in Pony Girl. In these moments Galloway finds ways to finally reveal such a complex figure down to his own needs, desires, and shortcomings.
Fun Home is also one of the most beautifully composed musicals I’ve heard to date, and Janice Wright’s music direction is absolutely phenomenal, with stunning harmonies on numbers like Welcome to our House on Maple Avenue and the show’s finale Flying Away. The show’s six-piece orchestra is equally stellar.
Fun Home is arguably one of the most important works to come out of musical theatre so far this century, and Proud Mary’s production during Pride Month highlights the importance of acceptance and love (and the lack of it) and its mission of creating a future of love instead of anger.
“Fun Home” runs through June 16, 2019 at the West Main Artists Co-Operative, 578 West Main St. in Spartanburg. Shows are Friday-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $15-25. For more information, visit www.proudmarytheatre.com.