Two years ago, a new musical, Fun Home, took New York City by storm. It was a unique and powerful experience to watch this 100-minute show that spans nearly 40 years of the protagonist’s life and pretty much all of her feelings and memories. That experience was fueled at least in part by the constant flow of the family encompassing the show, perfectly pulled off amid theater in the round.
Seeing the show brought back into action, this time in a more traditional theater setting — stage here, audience there — you couldn’t help but enter wondering whether the magic could carry on. Thankfully, though, this latest production of the triumphant musical at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C., soars in the way you remember it does. Of course the music (Jeanine Tesori) and book and lyrics (Lisa Kron) remain true to form, but the direction is arguably more difficult in this go around, and Sam Gold adapts the play to the stage space expertly yet again.
Some areas of the show actually come through louder and clearer this time. For instance, when the main character has a revelation about her sexuality during college after a sudden love affair with a young, confident lady named Joan, she is as awkward and uncertain as you’d expect. But it’s Karen Eilbacher’s performance as Joan that really carries these scenes in a comedic way that didn’t full come through in the original. Eilbacher does so much with such a small role, and it’s symbolic of the way that all of the cast and crew make the most of the opportunity to put this show in front of new audiences. It’s sure to find a following in its newest city.
Susan Moniz, starring in the role of the character’s mother, Helen, also shines in an understated role. Helen needs to be restrained until the last moment when she demonstrates her depth. What’s so powerful about that timely showstopper is the music perfectly suits the moment for Helen. And “Fun Home” is full of wonderful, original music that wouldn’t necessarily suit another show, but here it’s always the best-chosen sentiment and musical genre to get the audience to laugh, cry, feel, or hope. Even if you’re seeing the show for a second time, you’ll be brought back to the heart of the matter.