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'Fun Home' review: Disturbing, touching musical

Sydney Lucas and Beth Malone in

Sydney Lucas and Beth Malone in "Fun Home," the award-winning musical by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, on Broadway. Credit: Joan Marcus

Into a Broadway season dominated by new musical comedies and movie retreads comes "Fun Home," the grown-up, disturbing, blazingly original heartbreaker that won just about every award for which it was eligible during its 2013 Off-Broadway premiere at the Public Theater.

The musical play, based on Alison Bechdel's 2006 coming-of-age graphic memoir, has lost a bit of close-up intimacy but none of its gripping enchantment in the transfer into a large in-the-round setting. Surrounded by audiences, this 1 hour 40 minute nonstop treasure of invention retains the unpretentious chamber-musical feel of director Sam Gold's masterly production, while scenes from Bechdel's story rise and disappear into the floor like slippery memories on David Zinn's ingenious set.

The show is heady with mood-shifting music by Jeanine Tesori and an ingratiating, unflinching book by lyricist Lisa Kron. Moving back and forth in time, we relive the conflicting family dynamics with Alison -- played here by three terrific actresses of different ages -- who comes out as a lesbian just four months before her increasingly erratic father, a closeted gay man, kills himself.

The father -- remarkably portrayed within a scary yet tender mix of preening self-love and self-loathing by Michael Cerveris -- is a small-town Pennsylvania high school English teacher with a love of literature and a thing for teenage boys. He also is obsessed with the restoration of their historic home and busy as the director of the family business, a funeral home he calls, with ghoulish relish, the fun home.

There Small Alison (Sydney Lucas) and her two brothers play in caskets and fantasize their own absurd TV commercial. We shift easily to Oberlin, where Middle Alison (Emily Skeggs) explores both the Gay Union and a gay union. And watching over her young selves is narrator-cartoonist Alison (Beth Malone), with cropped hair and total comfort in the adult who has emerged from the uneasy contradictions.

Meanwhile, over at the baby grand is the mother (the deeply effective Judy Kuhn), a disappointed woman who knows what she knows. As a reward, she gets the best song.

Tesori, composer of the haunting "Violet" and artistic director of the smashing Off-Broadway series at Encores!, writes moody conversational melodic lines against an onstage septet of winds, strings and keyboard. She and Kron ("Well") deftly break the tension with witty pastiche numbers for comic relief. Often this story about the effect of changing gay worlds on two generations layers musical suspense on fragments of ascending melodies. They seem to hang in the air with anticipation. Anticipation fulfilled.

WHERE Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 W. 50th St.

INFO $75-$150; 212-239-6200;

An earlier version of this review had the show's incorrect running time.

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