November 21, 2016
Since it was announced that Lea Salonga will be returning on a local stage for a play, fans had been looking forward to watching this production. I have heard of the title "Fun Home" and the multiple Tony Awards this musical play brought home just last year. Therefore the hype and anticipation for watching such a recent Broadway hit show locally is very high leading up to its debut at the CP Romulo Auditorium at the RCBC Plaza, Makati City last November 10, 2016. This is the international debut of this show, a real big deal.
"Fun Home" is the nickname fondly given by the members of the Bechdel family for their maudlin family business, the Bechdel Funeral Home. We follow the story of the narrator, eldest daughter Allison: her childhood growing up, her sexual awakening in college and her current occupation as a comic book graphic artist. The story is told with regard to her delicate bond with her jack-of-all-trades father Bruce, who may or may not have been as ideal a dad as she thought.
This story originated from an actual 2006 autobiographical graphic novel by the real Alison Bechdel. The musical was first developed in 2009 with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Teson, and first played Off-Broadway in 2013 before its Broadway debut in 2015. The show went on to win five Tonys out of its twelve nominations, including Best Musical, Director (Sam Gold), Book, Original Score and Lead Actor (for Michael Cerveris).
The flow of the play is familiar and typical enough. We meet what seems to be an ideal happy American family composed of father Bruce, mother Helen and their three kids Alison, Christian and John. Later in the course of the play as events unfold, we see that they are actually a dysfunctional family. So far, so familiar.
However, this play goes beyond just simple dysfunction to tackle one sensitive issue after another: from gay girls cavorting and gay guys seducing, to child abuse and marital abuse, all the way to lying inside coffins, and there is even talk of body lice! These are all very serious controversial stuff that the more conservative musical theater fans may not really feel comfortable about. After watching, it was frankly very difficult to process how I liked the story, or not.
If you go to watch the show without any knowledge about the story, the unfolding of the story can be quite discomfiting for some more right-wing folk. The show is rated PG-13 for some intense scenes which require maturity, but there are actually young kids in the cast so those sensitive scenes can come as quite a shock for some people. I'd personally rate it R-16. Anyhow, you need to remember that this is already a Tony award-winning book so more people love it than you don't.
If the story may evoke conflicting reactions as it progressed, I believe that the conclusion will be universally loved. The touching way the ending scene ("Flying Away") was executed by director Bobby Garcia with his three Alisons (of three different ages) really hit its mark. When that beautiful drawing of small Alison playing airplane with her father flashed on the screen behind the actors, I was swept by an overwhelming rush of emotion as the image of me and my own father (as well as me and my own daughter) flashed in my mind.
It was really amazing how they cast three actresses of different ages to play Alison. The 43-year old Alison Bechdel was played by Cris Villonco and of course, she could do no wrong as she was practically onstage the whole time narrating the story while working on her graphic novel. As good as Villonco was as always, impossible as it may seem, the two younger Alisons were given more to do in terms of character development and the two younger actresses actually do much better.
10-year old Small Alison was played by the young dynamite Andee Achacoso. 11-year old Achacoso played her character very naturally with the right balance of charm, smarts and mischief. She also had a good rapport with two boy actors who played her kid brothers (Ronan Crisologo ? and Albert Silos). Fathers in the audience (like me) will be able to feel the father-daughter connection. Her biggest song is also the most controversial and , "Rings of Keys," telling us how she felt when she first saw a butch lesbian. Hearing a child sing this brave song can be unsettling for the uninitiated. (Katie Bradshaw alternates as Small Alison. Daniel Drilon and Teddy Velasco alternate as Christian, while Noel Comia, Jr. alternates as John.)
19-year old Medium Alison was played by Mikkie Bradshaw. I first saw her as "Carrie" and knew back then that she is one very good actress and singer. Bradshaw had a light, Disney-esque vocal quality that conveyed her character's innocence and curiosity (so well heard in her humorously naughty song of awakening entitled "Changing My Major"), in perfect contrast to that incredibly deep earthy voice used by Yanah Laurel as her girlfriend Joan.
Atlantis decided to get a bonafide Broadway star, Eric Kunze, to play Alison's father Bruce. This role is complex and meaty -- a flawed character that actors love to sink their teeth into. For audiences, his scenes were very discomfiting to watch. That scene when he picks up male student in his car was particularly squeamish, especially with that Hitchcock-like music that played in the background. His big moment of painful and ultimately mortal catharsis came in a song called "Edges of the World." Ironically, of all the actors, I had most trouble hearing Kunze's lines. His mic might not be working perfectly that show.
Young Fil-New Zealander actor Laurence Mossman played multiple roles of Roy, Mark, Pete, Bobby Jeremy, boys who hung around the Bechdel home for various reasons. At first we thought he was just there mainly because of his good looks and buff body as those roles required. However, he actually surprised us with his strong tenor singing voice in the song "Rainbow of Love". I think we will be seeing more of this guy in future stage productions.
Despite what audiences would expect for a star of her magnitude, Lea Salonga actually had very little stage time as Alison's long-suffering martyr of a mother Helen. Anyhow, Salonga would make the most of her big showcase moment when she gets to spill out all the harrowing emotions and frustrations Helen had held back all these years in a powerful ballad entitled "Days and Days." This single song alone, rendered with simmering intensity coming to a full boil, is able to highlight why Salonga is our national treasure.
Lending creative support to Director Bobby Garcia are the talented and ever-efficient technical geniuses: Musical Director Ceejay Javier, Vocal Director ManMan Angsico, Choreographer Cecile Martinez, Light Designer Adam Honore, Set Designer Faust Peneyra, Costume Designer Oz Go, Sound Designer Kevin Heard, Projection Designer GA Fallarme and Hair and Make-up Designer Johann dela Fuente. As with other Atlantis shows, the production ran seamlessly with no obvious hitches. We do not really have to go to Broadway to catch these hit shows anymore. (Coming up next year is Cyndi Lauper's "Kinky Boots".)
There are only five shows remaining of their limited 18 show run: Nov 25 (Fri) 8PM, Nov 26 (Sat) 3PM/8PM and Nov 27 (Sun) 3PM/8PM. On Ticketworld, tickets cost P 4,180 (Orchestra Center), P 3,657.50 (Orchestra Right / Left), P 3,135 (Loge Center / Sides) and P 1,567.50 (Balcony).