MENASHA, Wis. (WFRV) – A musical that early on includes a line about a father and a daughter, “He killed himself, and I became a lesbian cartoonist,” foreshadows a high-powered time at the theater.

Along the way, another line is, “I thought I had a life I understood.”

That feeling ripples through “Fun Home” – through lives and possibly into the audience.

The remarkable musical continues for three more performances in a UWO Fox Theatre production in Perry Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Fox Cities Campus.

“Fun Home” turns in unique ways.

It is entertainment that educates and affects.

The main character is a lesbian. Her father is gay.

Those two sentences are a struggle for each to say.

Having that struggle played out on stage is invigorating and daunting – stuff that once wasn’t talked about, much less expressed in a musical.

It takes astute direction and creative collaboration and a cast primed to unleash a high-octane story.

Songs in “Fun Home” don’t necessarily flow on gliding melodies but are expressions of emotion and thought.

The “Fun” of the title is short for “funeral.” Instead of “funeral home,” three frisky kids who live there have given their home the nickname “fun home.”

The kids do have fun in Bechdel Funeral Home. They make up a commercial ditty that’s pure dark comedy – “Come to the Fun Home” – an invitation that folks would rather pass on.

Other elements are pure dark – the shady side of the children’s father, who is something of a chameleon.

Bruce Bechdel is a Renaissance man. He teaches. Has a taste for literature. Has a taste for fine points of historical preservation. Has a taste for philosophy. Has a knack for art. Has a taste for music. Has a knack for caring for the dead as part of the needs of running a funeral home, the family business. He also has a taste for young men.

Bruce Bechdel is a burning man.

His daughter, Alison, is trying to understand him and her.

“Fun Home” opens with Alison (Corrie Beula Kovacs), at age 43, watching herself at age 9. Small Alison (Abby Karth) is singing a song in which she is calling for her father, Bruce Bechdel (Kyle S. Brauer).

The adult Alison is a walking memory. Not only does she see herself as a playful child with her mischievous siblings, Christian (Milo Beckett) and John (Noah Jackson), she flashes on her awakening moments as a college student. She then is Medium Alison (Lexi Bestol).

The adult Alison is an accomplished artist. Her expertise is the graphic novel, autobiographical in this case. She is seen throughout busily sketching and calling upon herself to describe her drawings – filling in the blanks after she says, “Caption…”

Set pieces in this production are special – a concept vision. Many elements are the cartoonist’s basic black lines on white background. The production’s dominant image is the exterior of the family’s home – 2½ stories of a vintage structure. Much effort and imagination have gone into creating the atmosphere of the fussy and historical furnishings and décor of the Bechdel Funeral Home.

For added cleverness, the structure opens to reveal the interior in coordination with the singing of the line, “Now gives way to then,” as Alison visits the past.

Alison at 43 is bringing her life to new form, searching for clues and revelations along the way. She is searching about herself and her father. Alison notes early on that she is like her father but not like her father. In bringing her memory to pages, Alison tells of discoveries about her sexuality and that of her father – clouded by his demise.

Authors Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron earned the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical with “Fun Home.”

Theirs – and the real Alison Bechdel, who wrote an autobiographical graphic novel – is an unusual story told in imaginative ways.

Director Susan Rabideau and musical director Brittney Baldwin tap into the complexities of the souls in the story in the distinctive way musical theater does. The combination works well often.

Four solos especially bare souls. Each has a different hue of intensity.

Lexi Bestol as Medium Alison generates angst and eagerness on her coming-out night in “Changing My Major.” The song even is a bit tad comical as Medium Alison’s new major is Joan, her love discovered.

Kris Isham as Bruce’s wife Helen tears into the song “Days and Days” and erupts in agonies. Helen is an admired actress. She shares three children with Bruce. She nurtures family needs and is certain of Bruce’s abilities. At the same time, Helen experiences Bruce’s explosive temper and demands – woven into her life. The life has had bright moments, but the dark is relentless. Kris Isham’s enacted singing powerfully expresses a relentless struggle.

The show’s climax has a double edge – back-to-back songs. First is a car ride in which Corrie Beula Kovacs as grown Alison transports herself to her past as she intensely struggles to make a connection with the elusiveness of her father in “Telephone Wire.” Then comes Kyle S. Bauer as Bruce, turning the agony of a life in smoldering ruins into a song of suffering in “Edges of the World.”

Corrie Beula Kovacs and Kyle S. Bauer are forces throughout. Each has bundles of experience and know-how. Corrie Beula Kovacs again this summer will be part of the professional stage of Northern Sky Theater in Door County.

The UWO Fox Theatre production includes youth in the cast as the Bechdel children. Abby Karth, Milo Beckett, and Noah Jackson are game for being important players as they act, sing, and dance in this grown-up story. They supply levity in the teasing song “Come to the Fun Home,” which is the kids’ made-up commercial jingle inviting folks to their family’s funeral home.

This and that:

+ It takes a few seconds to know “Fun Home” is different. The action starts when a girl arrives from a wing and sings an adult song in which she is calling for her father. The girl is age 12. Also present, observing, is the girl’s adult self, remembering and struggling with her memories.

+ Sexuality is a character. Bruce is secretive. Helen’s take on that to Alison is, “You father tell the truth? Please.” Bruce’s attractions are seen in a series of characters, all portrayed by Carson Blake, who can be a workman who willingly opens his shirt or a former student Bruce offers a ride. (Carson Blake also gets to be a pop star in a catchy disco song). In college, Alison wrestles with her sexuality with “I don’t want to be a lesbian” before the picture comes clear through meeting a member of the Gay Union, Joan (Sara Mueller). Alison’s joy in revelation is cut short at home; her mother believes Alison’s sexuality is a choice and Alison is sorely mistaken.

+ Music is sweet and uplifting and churning and exciting, while often dealing with multiple feelings. A live orchestra delivers it all.

+ Conflicted emotions abound. Not long ago, a production like this would not have happened without cries of shock and alarm. Now it’s part of life’s fabric, though not always easily understood.

+ Walking out of the theater, this thought arises: “Fun Home” is smart and earthy and disarming and disturbing and fun and very much not.

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Running time: One hour, 25 minutes (no intermission)

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. April 28-30

Info: uwosh.edu/fox/community/cac/theatre-performances/

Note: Masks required due to COVID-19 concerns

Creative: Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel: music – Jeanine Tesori; book and lyrics – Lisa Kron; director – Susan Rabideau; musical director – Brittney Baldwin; stage manager – Frank Tower; technical director – Brian Ugorowski; assistant stage manager – Brenna Lane, Kelly Robinson; set designer – Jeffery James Frelich Jr.; costumer – Hannah Nolte; lighting designer – Andrew Schmitz; Gay Union door – Tom Wallestad; “Come to the Fun Home” choreographer – Lexi Bestol; props – Carly Zimmer; costume cartooning – Abby Karth

Cast:

Alison – Corrie Beula Kovacs

Small Alison – Abby Karth

Bruce – Kyle S. Brauer

Helen – Kris Isham

Christian – Milo Beckett

John – Noah Jackson

Roy/Pete/Mark – Carson Blake

Medium Alison – Lexi Bestol

Joan – Sara Mueller

Soloist “Raincoat of Love” – Hannah Schierl

Ensemble – Josef “Jodell” Kleba

Pit orchestra: Conductor/piano – Sarah Wheeler; guitar – Jake Anthony Crowe; bass – Rachel Richards; bass (April 21) – Matt Stangle; drums – Maureen Milbach; violin – Kylie Montee; cello – Adam Korber; reeds – Craig Hietpas

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Musical numbers

“It All Comes Back” (Opening) – Small Alison, Bruce, Alison and Company

“Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue” – Company

“Not Too Bad” – Medium Alison

“Come to the Fun Home” – Jo, Christian and Small Alison

“Helen’s Etude” – Company

“Changing My Major” – Medium Alison

“Maps” – Alison

“Raincoat of Love” – Company

“Pony Girl” – Bruce

“Ring of Keys” – Small Alison and Alison

“Days and Days” – Helen

“Telephone Wire” –Alison and Bruce

“Edges of the World” – Bruce

Finale: “Flying Away” – Alison, Medium Alison and Small Alison

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THE VENUE: The 361-seat, two-level James W. Perry Hall features a proscenium (flat-front) stage with a substantial performance area of 36 feet wide by 86 feet deep. Acoustic clouds are part of the ceiling. On the side walls are acoustic panels of copper color that matches the woodwork stain on seat backs and arms and on decorative square and rectangular wood panels. The theater is amply equipped and fairly new. The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Fox Cities Campus Communication Arts Center opened in 2009. The adjacent lobby is spacious and includes a ticket office, snack service area, restrooms and spaces for art and photo displays.

THE NAMESAKE: James W. Perry is the former dean and campus executive officer.