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'Fun Home' review: A family has well-kept secrets in this well-done musical

Dennis Creighton is dad and Jacqueline Hughes is the grown-up Alison in "Fun Home" at Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts. / Courtney Braun

Family and tragicomic are used in the subtitle of Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir “Fun Home,” words that perfectly apply to the Tony Award-winning musical inspired by the bestseller.

The heart-wrenching story of Bechdel’s efforts to understand family dynamics and her own sexuality is getting its Long Island premiere at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts in a moving production, directed by Kenneth J. Washington, that should send anyone who missed it on Broadway running to the box office.

Actually, even if you saw it in New York, this one’s worth seeing again, if only to watch Jacqueline Hughes  nail the demanding part of grown-up Alison. With a potent mix of grit and regret, Hughes plays 40-something Alison, a successful cartoonist looking back and over the shoulder of her younger selves — the preteen Small Alison (Gabby Blum at my performance; the children are double cast) and college student Medium Alison (Lisa Naso). 

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The narrative is far from linear, with multiple time jumps as the girls, at times on stage all at once, are shown growing up in rural Pennsylvania with their parents and two brothers in the rambling Victorian (the nearly life-size facade is by Tim Golebiewski) painstakingly restored by their controlling and horribly conflicted dad. 

Early on, we see the kids (brothers at this performance were Brayden Bratti and Dylan O’Leary) creating an impromptu Jackson 5-style commercial for the family-run funeral parlor they label the “Fun Home.”  But things are not all happiness and light. Mom Helen (Stephanie Moreau) tries to protect the kids from the increasingly frequent manic outbursts that signal Dad (Dennis Creighton, in the show’s toughest part) is a troubled man.

The music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Lisa Kron work seamlessly into the action, and everyone gets a moment. Small Alison sings the poignant “Ring of Keys,” revealing her early attraction to an “old-school butch” delivery woman, Medium Alison discovers her sexual yearnings in “Changing My Major,” and grown Alison delivers a gut punch with “Telephone Wire,” in which she tries but fails to talk to Dad about being gay. But the most powerful song goes to Mom — in “Days and Days,” she painfully reveals she’s known all along about Dad’s affairs with young men, and begs her daughter, who’s just come out, not to “give away your days like me.”

This is a challenging play, and despite the light title, not appropriate for some of the younger children I saw in the audience. But it speaks eloquently of family — of love and connection and especially of all those things we tend to keep from each other.