It’s really, really difficult to get excited about new Broadway shows when you don’t live in New York City and don’t have the resources to visit. What is available to you are the reviews, the official show clips, the behind-the-scenes videos; the show is just out of reach, but it isn’t until the cast album comes out that you get that first taste of the show for yourself.
There aren’t many reviews of cast albums online, but for people like us, the cast album is all we have. And sometimes, a good or bad review is what will convince us to buy the album at all. That’s where I come in.
I was lucky enough to catch the new musical Fun Home, based on the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel (yes, of the Bechdel Test), at the Circle in the Square Theatre last April on Broadway.
If you’re interested in the show, you’ve probably already read the rave reviews by every single critic with decent hearing. This is not one of those reviews. I’ll be reviewing exclusively the cast album as an experience in itself.
The Fun Home Original Cast Album is one of my favourite musical theatre albums of all time, thanks to its quick-witted storytelling and, of course, Jeanine Tesori’s emotional score.
Fun Home is one of those albums that you cry through. The recording contains every song from the Off-Broadway show, meaning it has a song that’s missing from its Broadway production, “Al For Short”, and doesn’t contain the currently performed “Pony Girl” and “Party Dress”. Still, the album beautifully captures the youthful spirit of the show, with Tesori’s soaring melodies and Lisa Kron’s extremely clever lyrics.
An interesting element of the album is the bits of dialogue between songs, making it even easier for the far-away listener to follow the story arc – considering the story is told unchronologically. A personal favourite of mine is “Thanks for the care package…”, a conversation between protagonist Alison and love interest Joan about Alison’s discovery of her sexual orientation. A hilarious, awkward, and very real-sounding dialogue that makes me grin when I listen to it.
My absolute favourite song on this album is “Changing my Major”, a love song Alison sings to a sleeping Joan after they sleep together for the first time. The actor who plays Medium Alison, Alexandra Socha, delivers a beautifully awkward performance. She is hesitant, she stumbles over her words, and yet every note and lyric is crystal clear. So many emotions in one song. It’s a thrill to listen to.
A close second is “Welcome to our House on Maple Avenue”, a song that introduces the audience to Alison’s family. It’s an upbeat, fast-paced song that captures a restlessness, the anxiety and tension running through the family as they clean their impressive house. It also introduces us to the setting, to the majestic, historic house they call home. The orchestrations of this song send shivers down my spine.
I adore every song on this album, so although I won’t go through them all, I’ll mention that the opening and closing numbers are gorgeously structured. They bring the story full circle, tying every single loose end. I have tears in my eyes when I get to the end of the CD, thinking of the delicate balance of this and of every family.
Fun Home is one of my favourite musicals ever, so it makes sense that I’d love the cast recording just as much. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re interested in an unconventional Broadway score, with classical, folk, and pop influences. There’s really something for everyone in this magnificent score. It captures the changing face of modern Broadway.