Fun Home, a co-production of Melbourne Theatre Company and its Sydney counterpart, has finally hit the Melbourne stage after two years of pandemic setbacks.
It is so worth the wait.
An original Australian production of the Tony Award winning Broadway show, Fun Home’s considered design, skilful direction and stellar performances make this one of the finest shows to grace the Playhouse stage in years.
The first musical to feature a lesbian protagonist, Fun Home’s premiere is fitting in Melbourne Pride week, presented in association with Midsumma Festival. Lisa Kron (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music) have lovingly adapted cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir into a contemporary musical.
Bechdel, portrayed here as a child, young adult and adult, discovers her homosexuality while navigating a tricky relationship with her father Bruce – who unbeknownst to her – is also homosexual. The more challenging moments are sprinkled with times of joy, such as Medium Alison’s triumphant coming out (‘Changing my Major’) and the Bechdel children’s hijinks in the family funeral home (‘Come to the Fun Home’).
Alicia Clement’s set and costume designs beautifully capture the eras represented throughout Alison’s life. Neat variations of Alison’s outfits join the three performers together, and a dominantly 70s palette provides warmth and nostalgia. A revolve is expertly employed to capture the grandiosity of the Victorian home so lovingly restored by Bruce, achieving heart wrenching poignancy when its revolution mirrors the unravelling of Bruce’s mental health through Alison’s furiously accessed traumatic memories. Matt Scott’s lighting design expertly transforms the home setting throughout the pieces, and drives the show’s climax.
Director Dean Bryant has drawn out the best in his performers, with each of the ensemble cast trusting the strength of the book over showy performances. It is rare to see a musical with such balance and grace.
Silvie Paladino’s Helen is in the background until her character demands to be heard. Lucy Maunder similarly offers a deft touch and sincerity to her portrayal of (big) Alison, beating the challenge of being largely observant of the action for the bulk of the show. Ursula Searle exudes infectious jubilance as Medium Alison, while Sophie Isaac soars as Small Alison, bringing the house down in a magnificent moment of revelation upon encountering a “handsome” delivery woman (‘Ring of Keys’).
Adam Murphy delivers the role of his decorated career on the Australian stage, with a considered and nuanced portrayal of Bruce Bechdel that must be seen to be believed. While his effortless vocals send Kron’s touching lyrics to the rafters, it his convincing portrayal of the most challenging aspects of Bruce’s life and relationship that solidify this performance as one of the greats.
Fun Home is authentic storytelling at its best. Don’t miss it.
Fun Home is a Melbourne Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company co-production, in association with Midsumma Festival. The Melbourne season runs from 9 February through to 5 March at Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse. https://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/whats-on/season-2022/fun-home/
Image credits: Jeff Busby