The last decade has been kind to musical theatre. Once dominated by Andrew Lloyd Webber numbers designed to appeal to your auntie Brenda on her annual trip to the big smoke, the arrival of shows like The Book of Mormon, American Psycho and Groundhog Day pushed a new breed of darkly comic production towards the mainstream. Then came the all-conquering Hamilton, which redefined what a musical can be.
Fun Home, an adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel, first performed in New York in 2013, follows in this vein.
Charting three periods in the life of the cartoonist – adolescence, late-teens and adulthood – it swoops from edgy comedy (the titular Fun Home is the family’s funeral home) to heartrending tragedy, but only really nails the latter.
It’s a story of a girl coming to terms with her sexuality and her relationship with her father, who is… difficult. The older woman is ever-present, watching from the sidelines as her younger selves crash through the defining moments of her life, the ghost of Alison future, attempting to retrospectively make sense of it all through her art.
The highlights all involve the teenage Alison (Eleanor Kane), as she goes through the twin revelations of her attraction to women and her realisation that all isn’t well with her absent-yet-domineering father; her song Changing My Major, an ode to her first sexual conquest, is the musical highlight of an evening rather lacking in memorable numbers.
Zubin Varla is also excellent as Alison’s father Bruce, imbuing his flawed character with a compelling energy that gives an insight into how he gets away with his various transgressions. A scene in which he comes close to a big reveal – which I won’t spoil – had people sobbing uncontrollably.
Alas, the comedy often misses the mark, relying too heavily on “aren’t kids funny” routines that feel below a production of this scale. The lack of memorable songs also begged the question of whether Fun Home needed to be a musical at all…
But flaws notwithstanding, it’s a faithful adaptation of Bechdel’s ethereal comic strips, and a celebration of a gay relationship that’s well timed for this weekend’s Pride celebrations.