Fun Home

Putting the Fun in Funeral Home – Or Not   

Fun Home, now on stage at the CAA Theatre in Toronto, has some really funny moments.  In one scene, three children, whose family operates a funeral home, create an advertisement to promote the business.  They climb in and out of a casket, dancing and singing about all the great services they offer:  “Our caskets are satin-lined … we got Kleenex and your choice of Psalm,” they sing.  After using a can of Pledge furniture polish to make the casket shine, the children find it comes in handy as a microphone when they rehearse their big number.  Unfortunately, the fun is overshadowed with darker times.

Fun (short for Funeral) Home is Alison Bechdel’s true story, which she told in her graphic novel.  Later it was adapted for stage.  Alison and her two brothers grew up in the funeral home business.  Her father was not only the funeral director, but also a high school English teacher, and an active member of the historical society, hunting down antiques and restoring old houses.  Despite all this, he is unhappy, often lashing out in anger at his wife and children.

Alison goes off to college where she finally admits to herself that she is a lesbian and enjoys her first romance.  When she comes out to her parents, she learns from her mother that her father is gay and his had many affairs during their marriage, dating right back to a World War II army buddy.  Eventually, her father commits suicide.

It’s a dark and sad story, but the bright spots throughout the show keep it entertaining, while it provides much to ponder.

Fun Home is well cast.  Many of the actors have solid Stratford Festival experience.  An autobiographical tale usually has one central character, but Fun Home gives us three.  We have 43-year-old Alison, perfectly portrayed by Laura Condlln.  She is enveloped in memories, lurking on the stage as she watches her younger selves.  Occasionally she narrates the story.

Then there is Medium Alison:  Sara Farb is exceptional as the college student discovering her sexuality.  Farb’s rendition of “Changing my Major”, a song about her first romance, is delightful.

Hannah Levinson (who formerly starred in Matilda) is Small Alison, the child who has so much fun with her brothers.  Levinson belts a heartwarming song, “Ring of Keys”, where she sees a delivery woman with whom she feels a kinship.  Young Levinson will certainly be showing up on stage in future. 

Evan Buliung creates a complex and troubled Bruce Bechdel, the father.  We see glimpses of his love for his daughter, but we know he is churning with dissatisfaction inside.  Canadian favourite Cynthia Dale is the stoic mother, who knows his secret and grapples with it.  Dale makes her struggle palpable.

Sabryn Rock is excellent as Joan, Medium Alison’s college girlfriend and first lover.  Eric Morin handles several parts perfectly; in particular, he shows good rapport with the children as Roy.  The roles of Small Alison’s brothers are handled very well by Jasper Lincoln and Liam MacDonald.

Which brings me to what I felt is the only flaw in the story, albeit a small one.  While the little boys play a big role in Small Alison’s life, they disappear in the later years.  When Alison comes out, she is so worried about the reaction of her parents, that I was left wondering about her brothers.  Similarly, how did the father’s suicide affect the sons?

Despite that minor concern, this is a story well told, with song lyrics that advance the characterization.  Even though we know early in the plot that the father’s suicide is the inevitable outcome, we are spellbound throughout the show.

A fascinating story of family dynamics combined with a strong cast, this moving musical is not to be missed.  Before I had the review completed, Fun Home‘s  run was extended from May 6 to May 20.  I hope that it will continue on stage for many weeks, if not months.

Fun Home continues with eight shows a week at the CAA Theatre (formerly the Panasonic), 651 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario until May 6.  Call TicketKing 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets.

Photo:  (Left) Liam MacDonald, Jasper Lincoln and Hannah Levinson in Fun Home. (Right) Evan Buliung as Bruce Bechdel and Hannah Levinson as Small Alison.  Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Fun Home
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Book & Lyrics by Lisa Kron
Based on the Graphic Novel by Alison Bechdel
Directed by Robert McQueen
Choreographed by Stephanie Graham
Musical Direction by Reza Jacobs
Performed by Evan Buliung, Laura Condlln, Cynthia Dale, Sara Farb, Hannah Levinson, Jasper Lincoln, Liam MacDonald, Eric Morin, Sabryn Rock.
Produced by David Mirvish with The Musical Stage Co.
CAA Theatre, Yonge Street, Toronto
April 13 to May 20, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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