Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW REVIEW: The Musical Adaptation of Alison Bechdel's Graphic Memoir Comes To Life With Power And Poignancy In The Australian Premiere of FUN HOME

FUN HOME

BWW REVIEW: The Musical Adaptation of Alison Bechdel's Graphic Memoir Comes To Life With Power And Poignancy In The Australian Premiere of FUN HOME

Saturday 1st May 2021, 7:30pm, Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney

Captivating, heartwarming and heartbreaking, Jeanine Tesori (Music) and Lisa Kron's (Book and Lyrics) adaptation of Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir FUN HOME has finally opened in Sydney after a pandemic induced delay. Director Dean Bryant, supported by Music Director Carmel Dean, delivers an original expression of the multi award winning musical that broke barriers as it put a lesbian character and her discovery of her own and her father's sexuality in the spotlight.

BWW REVIEW: The Musical Adaptation of Alison Bechdel's Graphic Memoir Comes To Life With Power And Poignancy In The Australian Premiere of FUN HOME
Mia Honeysett, Adam Murphy, Lucy Maunder and Marina Prior in Sydney Theatre Company's Fun Home, 2021. Photo: Prudence Upton ©

Bringing a book to stage, FUN HOME draws on the creative process that American cartoonist Alison Bechdel used to create FUN HOME: A FAMILY TRAGICOMIC, her graphic memoir that was first published in 2006. Accounts state Bechdel's meticulous creative process which included studying old photographs, recreating physical stances to photograph before translating to paper and studying physical elements from her past resulted in the novel taking 7 years to be completed. It is this attention to detail along with the underlying understandings and enlightenment that such a personal project would unearth that forms the thread that runs through the adaptation as a 40 something Alison (Lucy Maunder) oversees all the unfolding memories from her childhood (role shared between Mia Honeysett, Karelina Clarke and Katerina Kotsopoulos) and her college years (Maggie McKenna), either from behind her studio standing desk, closer to the action with sketchpad and pen in hand or simply observing and studying the memory to be translated to the page later. FUN HOME shares not only Alison's journey to understanding herself, eventually being comfortable to openly express her sexuality, but also her relationship with her parents, particularly her father Bruce (Adam Murphy) who was never able to be open about his own homosexuality and the realization that even though the two were alike in many ways, they often sat at other ends of the spectrum of that connection.

BWW REVIEW: The Musical Adaptation of Alison Bechdel's Graphic Memoir Comes To Life With Power And Poignancy In The Australian Premiere of FUN HOME
Gilbert Bradman, Mia Honeysett, Jensen Mazza, Marina Prior and Adam Murphy in Sydney Theatre Company's Fun Home, 2021. Photo: Prudence Upton ©Caption

Transitioning between multiple locations in a work with a nonlinear timeline is beautifully managed with Alicia Clements design for both set and costumes. The core space gradually transforms from Alison's large sparsely furnished New York loft studio to represent her parent's Victorian Beech Creek Pennsylvania home that her father has painstakingly restored and filled with antiques, with elements added as they became relevant to the memory. A revolve reveals that the other sides of the building hold the secrets of other locations, from the college campus and Alison's Freshman dorm room to a simple expression of the family car. Costuming ensures that its clear from the start that the audience is watching Alison at three different stages of her life while expressing the evolution of her image from a child in overalls that was constantly badgered to put a clip in her hair to the young adult who adopts a shorter haircut and overall style that she will keep as she moves into her forties. The costuming of the rest of Alison's family and her eventual girlfriend Joan (Emily Havea) help reinforce the eras in which Alison's memories exist. Matt Scott's lighting design helps highlight the complexity of Alison's memories, from the realization that her father was upstairs with the young babysitter turned tradesman while her mother Helen (Marina Prior) practiced piano and the children watched television, to the more intimate moments where the world outside of Alison's immediate experience were blocked out and even an older Alison stood in the shadows to watch the recollection.

BWW REVIEW: The Musical Adaptation of Alison Bechdel's Graphic Memoir Comes To Life With Power And Poignancy In The Australian Premiere of FUN HOME
Gilbert Bradman, Mia Honeysett and Jensen Mazza in Sydney Theatre Company's Fun Home, 2021. Photo: Prudence Upton ©

Dean Bryant has ensured that this work retains balance between honest expression and the exaggeration and distortion that can come with recalled memories so that it refrains from tipping into the absurd, aside from the brilliant dream sequence, choreographed by Andrew Hallsworth, where young Alison wishes her life were more like the Partridge family than the tension and fighting that surrounded her. Scenes like college Alison's first sexual experience has a relatable honesty regardless of the audience's sexuality, reinforcing that some things are always awkward, no matter who you love. Grown up Alison's reaction to reading diaries from her younger self and recollecting her reactions are honest and relatable to anyone that has ever considered the absurd things they've done in their past.

BWW REVIEW: The Musical Adaptation of Alison Bechdel's Graphic Memoir Comes To Life With Power And Poignancy In The Australian Premiere of FUN HOME
Emily Havea and Maggie McKenna in Sydney Theatre Company's Fun Home, 2021. Photo: Prudence Upton ©

Given that grown up Alison is in every scene, either as a quiet observer or filling in the gaps of the story with her thoughts on the situations or contemplating the caption for the image she'll illustrate, Lucy Maunder ensures that it is clear that Alison is absorbing what she is witnessing/recalling, responding to the events even when the focus isnt supposed to be on her. There is a poignancy in grown up Alison's reflection and as always, it is a treat to hear Maunder's strong rich vocals. As college Alison, Maggie McKenna has a delightful balance of naivety and growing understanding of the world. McKenna's strong vocals balance with her ability to express a goofy physical awkwardness makes for a comic but not overplayed expression of a young woman still getting comfortable with who she on multiple levels. Mia Honeysett portrayed child Alison for opening night, and she fits well with the progression of the character and has good clear vocals and an honest realistic dramatic expression which can often be hard to achieve with young performers and her rendition of "Ring Of Keys" is fabulous.

BWW REVIEW: The Musical Adaptation of Alison Bechdel's Graphic Memoir Comes To Life With Power And Poignancy In The Australian Premiere of FUN HOME
Marina Prior and Ryan Gonzalez in Sydney Theatre Company's Fun Home, 2021. Photo: Prudence Upton ©

Adam Murphy, as Alison's father Bruce Bechdel, expresses the conflicted mortician come English teacher well as he ensures that it is clear from the outset that Bruce is hiding something behind a a façade of a perfect family and a perfect home. His expression of Bruce's final descent into despair from not being able to deal with not being able to be true to himself is powerful. As his long-suffering wife Helen, Marina Prior similarly ensures that it is clear that Helen is maintaining an image for the outside world while trying to keep the peace and avoid triggering Bruce's temper. Naturally her vocals are brilliant, giving more power and emotion to Helen's story of putting up with her husband's behavior for years. For opening night, Alison's brothers were presented by Gilbert Bradman as John (role also shared with Xavier Daher and Ben Stabile) and Jensen Mazza as Christian (role also shared with Julien Daher and William Wheeler). The young performers have a strong comic timing and physicality though their vocals were not always clear leaving those not familiar with the work missing many of the amusing elements of numbers like "Welcome to our house on Maple Avenue" and "Come to the Fun Home". As Alison's first girlfriend Joan, Emily Havea oozes a confidence as a woman more attuned to her sexuality and Ryan Gonzalez's turn as the various young men Bruce has seduced ensures that each is seen as somewhat similar whilst being unique.

BWW REVIEW: The Musical Adaptation of Alison Bechdel's Graphic Memoir Comes To Life With Power And Poignancy In The Australian Premiere of FUN HOME
Maggie McKenna, Lucy Maunder and Marina Prior in Sydney Theatre Company's Fun Home, 2021. Photo: Prudence Upton ©

Aside from some brief initial sound balance issues that were quickly resolved, this production of FUN HOME is an engaging work that allows the queer community see themselves represented on stage as a main character while also reinforcing that there are a number of elements of the experiences Alison has that can relate to all audiences regardless of sexuality. It also serves as a reminder for people to tell their loved ones how they feel before it is too late and that sometimes we need to be more observant to what others are going through.

https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au/whats-on/productions/2021/fun-home

BWW REVIEW: The Musical Adaptation of Alison Bechdel's Graphic Memoir Comes To Life With Power And Poignancy In The Australian Premiere of FUN HOME
Lucy Maunder in Sydney Theatre Company's Fun Home, 2021. Photo: Prudence Upton ©
BWW REVIEW: The Musical Adaptation of Alison Bechdel's Graphic Memoir Comes To Life With Power And Poignancy In The Australian Premiere of FUN HOME
Mia Honeysett, Lucy Maunder and Maggie McKenna in Sydney Theatre Company's Fun Home, 2021. Photo: Prudence Upton ©

Featured at the Theatre Shop

T-Shirts, Mugs, Phone Cases & More
Branded Broadway Merch

Related Articles View More Australia - Sydney Stories

From This Author Jade Kops