Critical Review

33_cvHennepin Theatre Trust’s Critical Review student reviewer program gives Metro-area high school students the opportunity to attend and review touring Broadway productions, Spotlight Education events, workshops to develop writing skills and other opportunities depending on availability. Critical Review teaches communication skills and enhances critical thinking and creative response. As part of Critical Review, students receive study guides and press kits before the show, learn from experts including local theatre critics, playwrights and actors who teach workshops in lighting design to choreography, and in some cases, have expanded access to the Broadway touring cast and crew.

Students post their reviews and interact online through our Critical Review Clubhouse (online access is required for participation). Students are accepted through an application process.

This program is free of cost to participants thanks to the generous underwriting of Fred and Ann Moore.

Applications are now closed for the 2016-2017 Critical Review season. 

Student Access

WELCOME TO OUR HOUSE ON MAPLE AVENUE by Ananda Cordova Stuart

Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue! Fun Home, a touching musical off of the graphic novel written by Alison Bechdel did not disappoint its raging reviews. Fun Home won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical, and there’s a reason why. It was sad, funny, and full of talent. I was sitting at the edge of my seat throughout the musical numbers waiting for what was next. This show running an hour and 45 minutes you could never zone out. Things were changing and stories were being told through song.

The cast couldn’t have been better. Having younger kids in the show really made the show feel more authentic. Christian and John played by Pierson Salvador and Lennon Nate Hammond were funny and energetic; they killed it during the song “Come to the Fun Home.” As did Alessandra Baldacchino who played the role Small Allison. She had a strong pretty voice throughout the show and really shined during her song “Ring of Keys.” This show being about the character Bruce (who was magnificently played by Robert Petkoff)  who is a closeted homosexual, made the show more real. As some people live their full lives not coming out of the closet. This show is almost being captured by a cartoon by the full grown 40 year old women Allison (played by Kate Shindle) you really get pulled into the different stages of her life. All the cast did a marvelous job and whenever something hard to say was said, they said it with such power and passion that I don’t think there were many dry eyes in the audience during the closing number.

Walking into the theatre I saw on stage a couch a desk and an orchestra in the far left corner of the stage. I loved that you could see the live orchestra for lots of the show. Again, it made everything feel more real. There were moments when a white wall would fly in and out very smoothly. There was a moment when the white wall flew up and the whole set had changed behind it. It was beautifully done. David Zinn did a well done job with the Scenic design. For me at certain moments the lighting of the show can make or break it. You could tell when the show was getting serious because the stage would go dark and there would be a single spotlight. At times when the kids would sing and play around there was disco lighting and all sorts of fun colors in all different shapes and sizes. That is all thanks to lighting designer Ben Stanton. Everything was well blocked and choreographed, all done by choreographer Danny Mefford and the marvelous director Sam Gold. Everything fit and weaved together quite nicely.

Take the time out of your day to go see Fun Home playing at the Orpheum this weekend. Its heart warming, funny, and real. The music adds more pizzazz to the show and the actors bring the show to life with such poise and talent. See a show that talks about hard topics, and won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical. Everyone works their hardest and deserves the standing ovation.


SOARS ABOVE THE REST by Annika Best

 Lives are made of a series of memories; both good and bad they answer life’s many questions. Fun Home, at the Orpheum December 13-18th, is based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel (played by Kate Shindle). The production focuses on Bechdel growing up and discovering she’s a lesbian and her complicated relationship with her gay father. She is creating her memoir and her story is told re-imagining her memories as she watches her small and medium self mature. The show skips between her childhood, teen life, and her response to the trials and tribulations of growing up.

          The show started with only a sketching desk, antique couch and lamp, and a door with ‘Gay Union’ posted on it. The entire upstage wall had a walkway running half the length with storage underneath and the orchestra on the other half giving me a sense of openness between the story of her life and the audience viewing it. Every set piece was designed to be easily transformable which made for seamless set changes. Actors would cross to new destinations, moving things as needed, memories invading each other’s established space with a grown Alison weaving in and out of it all. The lack of the traditional showy choreography kept Bechdel’s life relatable since it was the authenticity of average-day interactions.

         However, this lack of movement made some of the songs awkward since the actors would just stand in a frozen state, going through the motions. I noticed this in “Ring of Keys,” where small Alison (played by Alessandra Baldacchino) sings about a woman who walks into the restaurant she and her father are attending. It is one of her earliest memories of having strong romantic feelings for females. She just stood there using her arms as the only extension to express herself. She sang wonderfully, but her song lacked emphasis as if not choreographed at all. Though the show focuses on heavy topics, the music alone consistently covered the audience in a serene blanket full of enticingly bright color painted through sanguine-feeling music. Part of the optimistic outlook in the play is that every actor had a very brassy tone to their voice. Often songs seemed talk/sang, which helped them indicate their characters’ conflicted feelings.

          Short in length, at an hour and 45 minutes, the production packs a powerful punch addressing sexual orientation, family tension, emotional abuse, gender roles, and suicide. It brought attention to these societal shortcomings by including real life examples through a fictional-type medium. The constant struggle faced by each character was only heightened by the connection it made to our public affairs. The audience, which was primarily comprised of adults, could understand the character’s struggles without needing every emotional challenge explained to them since they have a more mature and developed thought process.

         Fun Home reinvents musical theatre by having limited choreography which built deep connections to character’s challenges, rethinking set design and how actors interact. Although some numbers were awkward due to lack of movement, the connection to emotion the actors portrayed covered that slight hiccup. This show is a moment of pure fascination that soars above the rest.


WE REARRANGE AND REALIGN by Sabrina Merritt

When the Bechdel children tell you to “come to the fun home,” you’d better listen. Fun Home, based on the graphic-novel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, tells the life and times of real-life cartoon artist Alison Bechdel. The musical, told from Bechdel’s perspective at three different ages, primarily focuses on the difficult relationship between Alison and her family, especially her father. Fun Home won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical, and is also credited for being the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist.

Fun Home’s story is told by three “Alisons,” representing Bechdel’s youth, young adulthood, and adulthood. Adult Alison, played by Kate Shindle, serves as the primary narrator, ready to fill the story with her embarrassment and insight to her pas events. Shindle plays the almost omniscient role of Alison with wisdom and humanity, and demonstrates her ability to truly control the audience’s emotions. Abby Corrigan’s Middle Alison while starts off almost too naive and dreamy about college life, quickly becomes a source of awkward and adorable comic relief. Corrigan’s performance and how it captures the gawky moments all young adults face, became a notable and hilarious part of the show. And no one can forget the tiny powerhouse Alessandra Baldacchino who plays Small Alison. Her energy is ever-present and full of emotion. All three actors greatly show how Alison Bechdel becomes the woman she is, and have voices that beautifully blend together.

To me this show feels especially unique in the actors’ vocal performances. While all of the actors undoubtedly have vocal talent, Fun Home is not a show where singers show off style and flair. The acting and emotions heavily come through almost all of the musical numbers, and do wonders to pull at the audience’s heartstrings. The only real complaint of the performances is the sometimes inability to understand the child actors who play the young Bechdel children, but this is only an occasional issue. It is even joked in the script how children can speak and adults may not catch a single word.

Fun Home’s set, originally designed for an arena theater, spends a majority of the show barren with only detailed props. When a background is added in the tense moments of the show, the enclosure of the set further expresses the tension Alison feels as she unravels her family’s situation. As the Orpheum is a proscenium style theater, it interests me how this was done in an arena, and if those performances lacked the sense of tension and anxiety this design gives. Unfortunately, the Tuesday performance at the Orpheum experienced some sound issues, but it was nothing that took away from the great show!

No matter the identity, or relations with family, seeing Fun Home is like looking in a mirror. The musical encapsulates being a child, adolescent, adult and a parent, and all of the emotions that come with those stages. The story expresses the highs and lows that come with life, and truly is a show for all.


FUN HOME: LEARNING TO FLY by Delia Grimes

Airplane: a quintessential childhood game. Being lifted up by a parent’s legs, them allowing you to fly while they are pushed to the floor. Holding on until you strike a perfect balance, spreading your arms so you can hover in midair, pretending you are flying. Not only does the game of airplane have a whole song dedicated to it in Fun Home, but it also is a reflection of the entire plot: a father lifting his daughter up to fly, while he is pinned to the floor, supporting her until he decides she is ready to find her own balance. Adapted from the autobiographical graphic novel by the same name by Alison Bechdel, the author reflects on her relationship with her closeted gay father while discovering she is a lesbian. Three Alisons are portrayed in the show: Small, Medium, and Grown Up. The stories of all three reflect upon each other and intertwine to tell a story of discovery, acceptance, and loss.

The biggest tip-off to the fact that this is a true story is how complex the characters are: it is hard to imagine someone creating characters as layered as the ones in Fun Home without some basis in reality. Bruce, Alison’s father, is moody, with interests in house restoration, literature, and who also runs the family’s funeral home. Alison goes through a subtle but amazing evolution through the show: we see her as a carefree young girl who questions everything to a naive college student discovering the world, and finally as an artist, reflecting on her past while creating the graphic novel Fun Home. Alessandra Baldacchino portrays Small Alison and manages to maintain a completely accurate representation of a young girl while not being cartoonish. She is absolutely enchanting while performing “Ring of Keys,” where she sees a delivery women who reflects who she wants to be: Alison hates dresses, the delivery women is wearing dungarees. The show as a whole plays a lot with gender norms, as Alison’s dad is constantly trying to get her to wear dresses and do her hair. Robert Petkoff, who plays Bruce, has a light touch: he does not play too heavily on one emotion at a time but instead creates whole moods with a combination of action and dialogue. Bruce’s character is complex: he has many different relationships with many different people, and these can seem to change in a blink of an eye – but Petkoff makes it look easy.

Although your childhood game of airplane may not be as metaphorical and poetic as Alison’s, the many themes of this show have something for everyone — while many serious subjects are present, they are portrayed with a touch of humor. Although heart-rending, the show is ultimately uplifting, making you grateful for what you do have.


ONE MOMENT OF PERFECT BALANCE by Ella Padden

Fun Home ends with Alison Bechdel proclaiming that just sometimes, there were moments of perfect balance in her life. Fun Home itself however, is a real moment of perfect balance of light and dark. Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, Fun Home is on its first nationwide tour. In 2015, Fun Home won five Tony awards, including one for Best Musical.

Fun Home tells the story of Alison Bechdel experiences with love, sexuality, reality, and secrets. Alison, played by Kate Shindle as an adult, Alessandra Baldacchino as a child, and Abby Corrigan as a teen/young adult, is the heart of this story. All three actresses embody Alison at pivotal ages of her life and connect with audience on multiple levels. The story of Alison is played out through her past, with the current Alison weaving in and out of her memories like a needle pulling thread through cloth. The end result is a story stitched together like the book Alison is trying to write for the duration of the play. Of the three Alisons, Kate Shindle shone the brightest. She pulled the play with gentle directions and showed the love and conflict she had with her father the best. Her father, Bruce (played by Robert Petkoff) is explosive. He often feels too much about too many things and tries to hide who he truly is. His obsession with restoring old houses to their conservative glory by hiding their flaws is a well done parallel for his personal desire to hiding his own love for men and his desire to be “normal” in society’s eyes.

The set (designed by David Zinn) transports the audience to the seventies with moving parts and interactive pieces. Seeing the characters move the set is like seeing Alison shift her mind from one memory to another. The sound (designed by Kai Harada) and the music (directed by Micah Young, coordinated by Antoine Silverman, with orchestrations by John Clancy) mixes ballads with the funk pop of the seventies. The soundtrack of this musical elevates each scene and by bringing Adult Alison into almost every song, her memories and feelings become clearer to the audience.

With it’s strong theme of accepting and staying true to yourself, Fun Home is an inspiring and relevant musical. It balances the light and dark of a person’s life and shows how our choices affect others. Its strong acting and beautiful set and story make it a show worth seeing.


IT MIGHT STILL BREAK A HEART OR TWO by Kayli Schneider

Typically, a night at the theater entails a night full of song, dance, and laughter with the slightest touch of sadness to make your heart clench, before everything is put back together and the protagonist live happily ever after. Fun Home, directed by Sam Gold proves that there are some stories that just don’t end with a happily ever after. The show follows the true story of Alison Bechdel, a lesbian cartoonist and her intricate relationship with her father Bruce, who unknowingly to Alison, was a gay man himself. With a standout performance by Robert Petkoff, Fun Home, now playing at the Orpheum Theatre through December 18th, is a must see.

Throughout the show, Alison is portrayed at three different ages of her life. Kate Shindle, playing the oldest Alison, serves as the narrator throughout the show, while Abby Corrigan shines as Medium Alison, bouncing her way through her first year of college and Alessandra Baldacchino playing Small Alison, during her childhood. All three of the actresses had stand out moments during the show, and all three delivered performances that will leave you covered with goosebumps. But perhaps the most notable performance of the evening was that of Robert Petkoff. His portrayal of Bruce was bone chilling as his character’s story unfolds and we learn who the real Bruce is. Petkoff’s performance left the audience filled with tears after “Edges of of World” and the theatergoers left the theatre with heavy hearts after the surreal performance that is one for the history books.

There were many design elements in Fun Home, one of the biggest being the set. Alison grows up in a house that her father rebuild himself, often calling it a “museum’. In Act 2 there is a moment when the finished home is revealed to the audience, looking like a completely new home compared to the half finished home we see in Act 1. This is a smart stylistic move, we see that since Alison has gone off to college, Bruce has plenty of time on his hands to start thinking about himself and how he could rebuild his life and instead, he rebuild the house. David Zinn did a beautiful job of adding depth to the show without any words needing to be said and the moment the audience sees the completed house for the first time stole the breath out of my lungs.

Fun Home is a beautiful show that captures your heart from the moment the lights dim. It is a story of life, not an unrealistic Disney fairy tale, but of life. Growing up with an imperfect family, the heartbreak of deception,and the confusion of self discovery and honesty. This show beautifully shows that life isn’t perfect and hardships are sure to come, all the while showing what growing is like with different scenes with Small and Medium Alison. The story of Alison and her father is one that will certainly pull at the heart strings.


CAPTION: WHAT A SHOW by Larissa Milles

Theatre, perhaps in a most simple term, is just storytelling. Every piece of theatre has a beginning, a middle, and an end, just like a story. Some theatre pieces are wild and fantastical, while others are filled with love and romance; some, however, are honest and harrowing. These kinds of stories are the hardest to portray on stage because of the depth required of them. Fun Home, directed by Sam Gold, is one of those stories, that tells the perplexing story of real life  lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel and the complicated relationship she had with her father, Bruce, a closeted gay man himself. Told exceptionally by an incredibly strong cast, Fun Home isn’t just about the fact that it’s main characters are gay; it’s also about the illusion of perfection and the unseen chaos that goes with it.

The role of Alison is portrayed at three different ages and played by three different actresses. Kate Shindle serves as the oldest Alison, the narrator of the story; Abby Corrigan portrays Medium Alison during her freshman year of college; and Alessandra Baldacchino plays the youngest Alison in her childhood. Each Alison has their moment to shine and delivers a remarkably powerful performance. The most raw and honest performances, however, come from Robert Petkoff and Susan Moniz  who play Alison’s parents Bruce and Helen. While the Alison’s provide some of the more lighthearted moments of the show, Bruce and Helen deliver two of the most emotional performances. Moniz, as a hurt Helen, captivates the audience with her heartbreaking “Days and Days”, while Petkoff’s entire performance is chilling and enthralling. This incredibly gifted cast is what makes the show. Their strength and talent are impeccable and beyond worthy of praise.

 Several design choices that paid attention to detail tied the show together, one of which being the costumes. A subtle but effective choice was made by designer David Zinn when he dressed the three Alison’s, whose costumes all coordinated. Each one was wearing a combination of purple and red, and had stripes on their costume. This distinction aides in reminding the audience that they all play the same character. Another distinctive choice was made by lighting designer Ben Stanton. Two of the more energetic and happy numbers of the show “Come to the Fun Home” and “Raincoat of Love” employed the use of bright, multicolored lights. This made the numbers stand out as the happy numbers they are intended to be.

 Fun Home is the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist at its center. Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron wrote an illustrious and groundbreaking show. The writing is innately human, going from happy to heartbreaking in an authentic way. Tesori and Kron captured the journey of Alison discovering who she is, cemented with songs like “Ring of Keys”, where Small Alison notices a butch woman and identifies with her, or “Changing My Major”, where Medium Alison realizes her sexual orientation. Audience members who aren’t LGBT, however, can still take away something from this production. One of the themes of this show is that oftentimes, perfection is a veneer. Underneath that facade are the flaws and imperfections that make us human. When we accept our flaws and realize who we truly are, we can fly away from the pressure to be perfect.


A RARE MOMENT OF PERFECT BALANCE by Linnea Stanton

Soft hues of light blue and white appear on a the stage, reflecting the metallic cover of Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. This is the first and only glimpse of the graphic novel that inspired the musical Fun Home the audience will see all night. A cartoonish drawing of Bechdel’s younger self balancing on her father’s feet projects behind three actresses, dressed in variations of navy and red while a cello quietly closes the show. The brief display of paneling from the original autobiography parallels the blue lighting on stage, blue plot line and the audience’s blue tears. Through detailed drawings, Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel tells her experience with coming out and discovering her father, who committed suicide, was also gay.

Fun Home, written by Jeanine Tesori and Lise Kron brings cartoon panels to stage through three stages of Alison Bechdel’s life. Small Alison (Alessandra Baldacchino) plays the young and naive time in her life, developing a relationship with her father Bruce Robert Petkoff. Medium Alison (Abby Corrigan) comes to terms with her sexuality in college while her relationship with Bruce is tested. Lastly, Big Alison (Kate Shindle) acts as the narrator, constantly recurring in scenes of her past while sketching her memories. Each actress gives a unique perspective to the same complex character. Baldacchino childish manner exemplifies the vulnerable and innocent part of all relationships. Corrigan steals the show as a painfully awkward closeted lesbian in college, stuck between growing up and all grown up. Her non stereotypical acting choices honestly portrayed a young woman coming to terms with herself and those around her. The confusion and curiosity of both Small and Medium make the reflection of Big Alison even more heartbreaking. Shindle accomplishes an incredible feat of staying on stage for all two hours of stage time, never missing a beat. While most of the time she is simply observing Alison’s past life, her small mannerisms captivate audience members and develop a character that make it seem like we are listening to a friend, rather than the story of a distant author. Alison and Bruce build emotional turmoil until a breaking point right before the finale.

In the moment before Bruce’s suicide, two royal blue lights flood the stage rewinding to a painful memory. While the fate of Bruce is declared in the opening song, the frantic internal reflection of Alison makes the audience feel an inevitable heartbreak, one that reality can not stop. Watching Bruce and Alison’s final moments together while knowing the end result is helpless, like watching two cars right before they collide, which ironically is how Bruce died. The raw honesty and vulnerability of Alison Bechdel’s autobiography is what makes for a beautifully tragic musical. Every single actor brings personal experience and reflection to the story to help make sense of Alison’s blue tinted life


FUN SHOW by Jada Gardner

“Days and days and days…” that’s how long I was looking forward to seeing the Tony award-winning musical Fun Home when it came to town. A moving story based on a graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, Fun Home explores the flashbacks of a lesbian woman, named Alison, who is reminiscing about her youth- specifically her history with exploring her sexuality, as well as her relationship with her father, a gay man who spent his entire life not-so-hidden in the closet, and who committed suicide. Naturally, I was pumped to see Fun Home live and in-person, but I was admittedly nervous about my rather high expectations not being met. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about.

The cast stole the hearts of the audience, one stellar musical number after another. While it was often difficult to understand the younger children over the orchestra, what they lacked in projection, they made up for in energy. Their primarily carefree, silly musical numbers were balanced out by emotional power ballads. Suzan Moniz’s rendition of “Days and Days” especially had me on the edge of my seat as I found myself captivated by the reflections and regrets of a woman who was bitter about all of the chances she didn’t take.

The three Alisons performed beautifully, seamlessly coming together in a way that made it easy to believe that they were all the same person. The stubborn quality in small Alison (Alessandra Baldacchino) that gave way to a meeker quality in medium Alison (Abbey Corrigan) blossomed into a poignant self-awareness in adult Alison (Kate Shindle). It helped that they were working alongside amazing actors that were able to encapsulate extremely conflicted characters, such as that of Alison’s father, played by Robert Petkoff.

The set was also a beautiful contributing factor to Fun Home. When we first saw the fun home in the beginning of the show, there was fancy decor, but by the middle it was essentially the parlour of a very well put-together home on the stage. At the end of the show, all of the fancy furniture is crowded into a pile. As fixing up homes was something Alison’s father put much of his time into, it seemed as though the set was almost following the progression of his life using a home as a representation: He spent his whole life building upon a facade, like adding fancy furniture to a house on shaky foundation, and when he died the facade was all that was left.

Adding to the notions of building upon a facade and spiraling out of control was intriguing lighting; throughout the show but particularly in the middle, characters would be framed by boxes of light. At a certain climax towards the middle of the show, the boxes began spiraling out of control, and suddenly there were more boxes on stage than actors, and and yet they kept moving, and often the actors didn’t fit inside of them. Perhaps when Alison stated that she “leapt out of the closet,” she might have instead said that she lept out of the box of light.

Fun Home was everything I hoped it would be and more. My only major complaint when I left the theatre was that I wasn’t ready for the show to end- it was that good. The acting was amazing, the vocals were astounding, the set was well-planned, and the lighting was clever. I may have been initially nervous to see the show, but as it turns out, I had nothing real to worry about in the days leading up to my trip to the house on Maple Avenue. As promised, they polished, they shined, and they delivered one beautiful, energetic, fun show.


Goals

  • To develop and enhance critical thinking, self-expression and analytical writing skills
  • To provide a unique and engaging forum for students learning outside of the classroom
  • To provide high school students the opportunity to develop an appreciation for live theatre

Elements of the Program

  • Participants see up to eight live theatre performances, often touring Broadway productions, at the Orpheum, State, Pantages or New Century Theatres and write reviews
  • Opportunity to review press materials provided to the professional media
  • Workshops with professionals in the theatre and journalism fields
  • Tour of one of the Trust’s Historic theatres
  • Student reviews posted on the Hennepin Theatre Trust website and SpotLight’s Critical Review reviewer site

What participants are saying:

“I LOVE Critical Review so much! Going to see all of those plays was so amazing. I really appreciate what the program has done for me.”
-Diamond Billinger, Critical Review student

Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best performances I have seen this year, tied with Wicked and Spring Awakening. There is no one better than Chaim Topol to tell the classic story of family hardship and change.”
-Sara Sommers,  Critical Review student

“I have loved Rent ever since I saw the movie. Being able to see the stage version with two of the original cast members was beyond amazing. It was so much fun and definitely an experience I’ll always remember.”
-Alicia Battle, Critical Review student

Contact Us

For more information about Spotlight’s Critical Review Program please contact:

Pete Tedrow, Education Coordinator
pete.tedrow@HennepinTheatreTrust.org
612.455.9529