Theatre Review: A fabulous, heartbreaking Fun Home

Fun Home
Theatre Review: A fabulous, heartbreaking Fun Home
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About the Author

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is a thespian and performer who has worked with theatre, film, and TV across Ontario. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville over 20 years. He is a graduate of Journalism from Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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There are few plays that achieve true dramatic greatness in the landscape of contemporary musical theatre. In the same regard, there are few productions of these titles whose obvious care, thought and attention bring these works of art to life.

Mirvish and The Musical Stage Company’s premiere production of Fun Home, now playing at Toronto’s CAA Theatre, is a stunning achievement. Its success is the meeting of great artists staging a fascinating and daring new musical.

What makes it daring? The subject matter is peculiar and totally unique. The show tells the true story of cartoonist Alison Bechdel (Laura Condlin) and the brainstorming of her autobiographical graphic novel, also called Fun Home.

Already an odd enough premise, the show also details Alison’s live through various events. This covers everything from growing up in rural Pensylvania to her sexual awakening as a lesbian in college. But it mostly examines her dizzying relationship with her father Bruce (Evan Buliung), a man of several jobs and even more dark secrets.

The cast of Fun Home. Photo: Mirvish Productions.

This production finally brings this courageous story to Canadian audiences after its 2015 Broadway incarnation. What made this show unique was how the story was told: there’s a fluid integration between the songs, book and instrumental music.

Writers Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s work is a brilliant chronicle that connects the story with clarity and showmanship. Everything is integrated so well the single 100-minute act feels at times like one seamless scene or song.

And those 100 minutes are unrelenting. Sometimes humourous, sometimes sad and sometimes scary, the musical is a throat-choking and emotionally charged experience. Most of the audience is left frozen by the show’s end from witnessing the passion and beautiful intensity of the material.

That’s also thanks Robert McQueen’s direction of the piece. His staging is just as fluid and gentle as the text, which takes all the work off the audience’s shoulders. It also lets viewers more easily soak up the deceptively simple and stark details of the play.

Toronto’s new production is as captivating as it was on Broadway.

Most of the musical’s real emotion and vivacious heart, however, comes from the thrilling nine-person cast. Condlin and Buliung are formidable talents themselves. But the entire company is compelling and grounded in a way only truly gifted actors can be.

Special mention must be given to Hannah Levinson and Sara Farb as Small and Medium Alison respectively – together with Condlin they each portray Alison at a different chapter in her life. They way they work together and build off each other’s performances is a truly spectacular display of acting.

Another standout is Cynthia Dale as Alison’s mother Helen. As strict and influential dad Bruce was, Dale gives her best performance in years as the devastated and anguished counterpart. This pairing is what refines the show’s great theme of seeing our parents through adult eyes.

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Hannah Levinson and Evan Buliung. Photo: Mirvish Productions.

The only true criticism I have oddly doubles as a benefit in some way. McQueen’s staging is so powerfully emotional that the tone is somewhat darker and sadder than past productions have been. It’s visceral to watch, even if that power comes at a price. The audience’s discomfort is obvious in some moments, though it passes quickly.

Fun Home has calmly soared into Toronto’s theatre scene and is quickly becoming a formidable production. And deservedly so; this combination of great material and a great staging doesn’t happen often.

The 2015 production on Broadway, for instance, won dozens of awards. That included beating the heavily favoured An American in Paris for the Tony for Best Musical. (Funny enough, Mirvish is also currently producing that musical just a few blocks south at the Princess of Wales Theatre.)

With a recent announcement extending the show’s run, you’ve got several weeks to see this equally stirring and modestly dazzling new work. This is the definite choice for audiences looking to see groundbreaking theatre with just enough edge.

Like the titular “Fun Home,” your visit to the CAA Theatre may be mildly distressing. I assure you the cathartic feeling as the lights come up again is more than worth it.

Fun Home
3 1/2 out of 4 Stars

Rated 13+. 100 minutes. Musical Biography Drama.
Book and Lyrics by Lisa Kron. Music by Jeanine Tesori.
Directed by Robert McQueen.

Starring Laura Condlin, Evan Buliung, Hannah Levinson, Sara Farb, Cynthia Dale, Jasper Lincoln, Liam MacDonald, Sabryn Rock and Eric Morin.

Now Playing at the CAA Theatre (formerly the Panasonic Theatre), 651 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON. Runs until May 20, 2018. Tickets range $25-99. Tickets available online with the Mirvish box office or by calling 416-872-1212.

One final note: make sure to stay behind after the performance. The company holds a 20-minute post-show chat with selected members of the cast that rotates each night. It’s a thought-provoking way to end the night and a fun end to your experience.

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