Much-honored musical, "Fun Home," bring its gifts to Proctors' audiences

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SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — "Fun Home" is the type of musical that needs no stars. There is no dancing ensemble, no rousing 11 o'clock number or an encore in which the entire cast sings to the audience, sending them home in a joyous mood.

Still, in 2015, the work, which plays Proctors Theatre Tuesday through Nov. 5, won five Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. It is a sensitive, thoughtful and sometimes oddly humorous play in which the joys come from appreciating human nature shown in an honest manner.

Robert Petkoff, who plays the production's central figure Bruce Bechdel, calls it "a play with music." Showing his enthusiasm for the work, he says, "It's the best role I have ever had. It's a part every actor dreams of playing."

Such a statement coming from an actor of Petkoff's stature is impressive. His name might not be recognizable to every member of the audience, but in the industry Petkoff is an in-demand actor who makes every play he is in a little bit better.

He's performed in the plays of Shakespeare in New York, London's West End and in regional theaters across the country. Among his many Broadway appearances he played Tateh in the 2009 revival of "Ragtime" and in 2014 he played Hubert Humphrey to Byran Cranston's LBJ in "All the Way."

He is in such demand in New York he hesitated to accept this national tour. "I asked my wife, do I really want to be on the road for a year or more? She reminded me that the opportunity to play this kind of role was the reason I became an actor."

He describes "this kind of role" as "one you never perfect." He explained that Bruce is such a complicated, complex person that you are always making new discoveries. "An actor needs at least a year to fully get all there is in the character, and maybe not even then."

"Fun Home" is a work based on Alison Bechdel's best-selling graphic memoir. Bechdel is a successful cartoonist, who happens to be lesbian. Her father Bruce was a closeted gay man in the 1960s, living in the small town of Beech Creek, Pa. His secret life caused him inner torment and led to family tensions.

"Despite what might sound a dreary topic for a musical, it is an uplifting and powerful play about love and family," says Petkoff. He points out that because Alison is played by three actresses representing her at different ages, (10, 19 and 43) Petkoff says we are able to see Bruce through several lenses over time.

"We all have memories of a parent that are shaped by the age at which we are at. Just as Alison sees her father's tormented life at different times, the audience also responds to him differently throughout the play. At first he's lovable, later he can be kind of monstrous and eventually we care very much about him."

Petkoff says one of the things he admires about the play is the journey every character takes. He sounds in awe of his co-star Susan Moniz, who plays the mother. "Her final song puts her whole life and her relationship with Bruce in perspective. Up until that time she seems a supporting character and all of a sudden you realize - no, she is a major character, with her own inner life and has her own story."

He also credits the director Sam Gold for the production's success on the road. "He found a way to keep the intimacy of the relationships even in the big houses we play. The note he gave us preparing for the tour was `Don't reach out to Beech Creek. Keep it on the stage. The audience will come to you.' Fortunately we have a fantastic sound design that permits us to speak naturally. It's almost like performing in a film on stage."

He says he never tires of performing Bruce. "It's a gift. As I travel the country and talk to people after the show, I realize it's also a gift to audiences. There are parts of this story that everyone can relate to and feel good about. It's odd that a work that sounds so dark can be so joyful."


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