A little over two years ago, K Alumna Lisa Kron ’83 and composer Jeanine Tesori won the award for Best Musical at the 69th annual Tony Awards with their smash hit Fun Home, based off of Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. The story follows Bechdel, a lesbian cartoonist, as she struggles to connect to her closeted father, an English teacher and funeral home director, before and after he commits suicide. Alison is portrayed by three different actresses at three different points in her life — as an adolescent child, a freshman in college, and a 43-year-old woman.
Fast-forward to now; the Festival Playhouse of Kalamazoo COllegecalls being the first college to produce the musical an “honor” – and proved it to be worthy of that honor with a stellar production of Fun Home.
Chief in the production’s success was its cast, in which there was hardly a weak link. Standout performances include Madison Donoho ‘18 as Alison and Sam Meyers ‘18 as Bruce Bechdel, both of whom brought incredible emotional depth to their characters. Special recognition should also be given to Aly Homminga ‘20 and Johanna Keller Flores ‘18 for their understated performances as Helen Bechdel and Joan, respectively.
A comedic highlight was of the show could be found in Meg Wilson’s ‘20 rendition of “Changing My Major” as Medium Alison. Wilson found herself forced to pause a number of times throughout the song, waiting for audience laughter to die down after repeatedly declaring “I’m changing my major to Joan.” First-year Ellie Hughes was also well-received throughout her first outing at the Festival Playhouse, particularly during her performance of “Ring of Keys,” in which her character, Small Alison, is awash with confusion and excitement upon seeing an “old-school butch” for the very first time while dining with her father at a lunchonette.
The show should also be noted for its superb music and lighting. While the orchestra was consistently excellent, the lighting staff really shined (pun intended) during key moments in the show; most notably, during the dreamy, fantastical rendition of “Raincoat of Love” and then again during Meyer’s poignant performance of “Edges of the World.”
If there was a fault to be found throughout, it would perhaps be in the volume of the actor’s singing voices. While proficient on their own or in a duet or trio, when more than four or five characters were singing simultaneously, it could be hard to make out what more than one or two were saying. This was most noticeable during the company performance of the opening number, “It All Comes Back,” though it occurred less and less often as the show progressed.
But such complaints would surely be called mere nitpicks by audiences, who overwhelmingly praised the college’s production of Fun Home.
“That was definitely one of the best shows I’ve seen since I’ve been here at K,” Elyse Tuennerman ‘18 said after the Friday night performance. “And I’m a senior who has been coming to these shows since my first year.”
“It’s hard to pick out just one part that was good,” Carmen Compton ‘20, who attended the final showing on Sunday, agreed. “The singing, the acting, the lights, the music — it was all on point. But then, so was the story as a whole.”
All in all, Kalamazoo College’s performances of Fun Home more than did justice to the Tony-award-winning source material — the cast and crew proved Kron’s trust was not misplaced when she chose her alma mater to be the first college to produce her masterpiece.