Martha Thomases: Turn On The Fun Home!
The Spider-Man show goes down in history as one of the most overwrought, over-hyped failures in Broadway history, not to mention the biggest money loser in Broadway history. Meanwhile, Fun Home is one of the surprise hits of the Off-Broadway season.
There haven’t been many theatrical hits inspired by comic books. The Superman musical didn’t make any real money. There was talk of a Batman musical, but it never happened (unless you count this http://www.batmanlive.com/#/. The closest successful adaptation since World War II was Li’l Abner, from a newspaper strip. The movie remains a favorite of mine.
Why did Fun Home succeed when Spider-Man didn’t? I hadn’t seen Spider-Man. Tickets were really expensive, and the Broadway audience is frequently boorish, talking and taking photos throughout a performance. The reviews weren’t good, and it seemed that they took the story in a camp direction. That seemed lazy and predictable to me. Certainly not something I’d pay several hundred dollars to experience.
In contrast, Fun Home makes few references to the medium of its source material. The narrator, a grown-up Alison, will occasionally use the word “Caption” to set up a scene. At the end, a frame from the graphic novel is projected onto the stage.
The play is not the book. I guess that’s obvious, but the ways in which they differ are actually quite striking. The story on stage is much more linear. Lisa Kron and Jeanne Tersori, who wrote the book and music, focus almost entirely on the relationship between Alison and her father. Understandable, but I missed seeing a more fully rounded dramatization of her mother, her siblings, and Joan, her first lover. At one point, I wondered if the show could even pass the Bechdel Test. Then Alison had a conversation with Joan about the gay student union at Oberlin, so they got that out of the way. (And also, I was amused at how well they captured the tone of political groups at the time. God, we were insufferable.)
The most interesting aspect of the show, to me, was the way they used three different actresses to portray Alison as a child, a college student, and an adult. The kid, Sydney Lucas, who plays the young Alison is remarkably good. She conveys the delight of discovering those first hints of her sexuality with a knowing glee.
The music and choreography are terrific. I’m curious to see how this show will travel. The staging at the Public Theater was relatively simple, so that it’s easy to imagine local theater groups able to adapt it to their situations. The cast is only nine people, three of them children (Alison and her two brothers).
Will the success of the show bring a new audience to the graphic novel? I don’t know. Will it make the media consider comics as something other than superheroes? I don’t know that either. In the meantime, I wonder if anyone is working on a show based on Stuck Rubber Baby? Because I would see that in a heartbeat.
SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman
SUNDAY: John Ostrander
MONDAY: Mindy Newell