A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW
St. Augustine’s Limelight Theatre has opened the Florida debut of Fun Home, a moving, heart-gripping musical (July 26 – August 25, 2019), on the Matuza Mainstage. The story has an unusual origin: it was adapted from a graphic true-life memoir written and illustrated by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, titled “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.” The book, which took over seven years to complete, was well-received after publication in 2006; both Time Magazine and the New York Times listed it as one of the best books of the year.
The musical adaptation, developed through a number of readings and performances, was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in drama. After opening on Broadway in 2015, it was nominated for multiple Tonys and won five, which included Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score. It tells the story of Bechdel’s dysfunctional family life during childhood in a rural Pennsylvania town, her later experiences as a college student who comes out as gay, and her work as an artist driven to recount these experiences in a memoir.
Three actresses portray Alison at different ages. Tess Therrien, a Douglas Anderson graduate, appears as the young Alison; the only role with an understudy, who is Limelight veteran Ella Escamilla. Camryn Chiriboga, a Daytona State graduate, appears as the college age Alison. Laura Mauldin portrays the adult Alison; she is well-known to Jacksonville audiences as an actress. She is also the creator, writer, producer, and star of the original web series Lemoncurd. All three Alisons have good voices and did a marvelous job with their roles.
We meet the parents early in the musical. Bruce is brilliantly portrayed by Josh Waller, a Jacksonville University graduate, who has appeared in many leading roles in musicals. He was most recently seen as Marvin in the 5 & Dime’s Falsettos. Other notable roles have included Valjean in Les Misérables, Bobby in Company, and Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Bruce is a complex character. His occupations include that of funeral home director and school teacher, and he spends endless time working at restoring the family home. He can be affectionate at times with his family, but is more often distant, abrupt, or angry. He’s a closeted gay man and he’s unhappy. We meet a number of young men who have caught his eye, all (Roy, Mark, Pete, Bobby) excellently portrayed by Alejandro Ramos, a Mandarin High School student.
Regina Torres, seen last season in Limelight’s production of Cabaret portrays Bruce’s wife Helen with controlled resentment. The chemistry that drew them together when they first met no longer exists, and she is often preoccupied with her own interests.
Alison has two younger brothers who added lively antics to many scenes. Drew Fitzgerald appears as Christian; he will be entering the St. Johns County Center for the Arts (SJCCA) at St. Augustine High School. Ben Kerlienevich appears as John; he is a SJCCA student at Murry Hill Middle School. While this was a first mainstage show at Limelight for them, both have had extensive past experience on stage and delivered polished performances. They appeared in the show’s funniest scene, along with Alison, which involved a project to prepare a commercial for the family’s funeral home.
Stephanie Santiago was perfectly cast as Joan, a student at Oberlin College, who becomes Alison’s girlfriend. We remember her marvelous Limelight debut as Libby in Neil Simon’s I Ought to be in Pictures.
At this point, we won’t delve further into the plot, leaving the rest for you to discover when you see this fantastic musical. Note: Reading the book beforehand or afterward is a good idea. It’s available in libraries, and the theatre also has copies available for purchase.
The book and lyrics were by Lisa Kron, the music by Jeanine Tesori (who also wrote the music for Shrek). The musical has almost thirty songs, but the program doesn’t include a song list. It really isn’t needed; the program for the Broadway production didn’t have one either. The songs are woven into the action and many are quite short, almost like those of an opera.
Bradley Akers cast and directed the show, adding another fantastic achievement to his theatrical resume, which includes directing, acting, and graphic and technical design.
Additional crew members included Camerson Sparks (Stage Manager), Izabella Unice (Assistant Stage Manager/Choreographer), Chloe Cuff (Assistant Director), Bethany Paolini (Costume Designer), Ryan Walker (Production Manager), Carl Liberatore (lighting Designer), Tivonah Andrade-Reid (Light & Sound Operator), and Nancy Grasso (Lead Scenic Change Artist).
The play is based on a true story that is beautifully told with music and strong characters. Many theatre-goes will find it captivating as it examines struggles in family life, changes in the perception of the past, and choices for shaping the future.
The theatre is located at 11 Old Mission Avenue in St. Augustine, Florida. Ample free parking is available. Visit limelight-theatre.org or call 904-825-1164 for additional information and reservations.