Sunday, May 14, 2017

Nordic Reviews: Fun Home

Sometimes, when I hear about a new interesting Broadway or West End production, I don't rush to read the synopsis and listen to the cast recording right away. Instead, if it seems likely the show will be produced somewhere in Northern Europe in a reasonable time, I'll wait – maybe I'll get a chance to experience the show live for the first time.

I lucked out with Fun Home. The Tony-winning musical from 2015 had its European premiere in late April in Kulturhuset Stadsteatern, Stockholm, and I and my friend managed to get the last two seats for the premiere!

Maja Rung as Medium Alison and Elin Skarin as Joan

Fun Home, book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori, is based on cartoonist Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir. It tells the story of Alison looking back to her childhood and college years, reliving the events of her past (with adult Alison, college-aged "medium" Alison and small Alison all played by different actors), trying to figure out why her closeted gay father committed suicide shortly after she came out as a lesbian.

That's pretty much everything I knew about the musical going in. Now, I have to admit my Swedish is not especially good. My meagre skills seem to come with an on–off switch. On a good day, I can understand a whole musical and have all my tourist-y conversations in Swedish. On a bad day, I can't handle a cashier asking me if I want a receipt.

I saw Fun Home on a bad day, so I didn't get a hang of half of the dialogue... Luckily, the music and the excitement permeating the premiere audience sucked me into the musical's world. The great thing with musicals is that you know what's going on even if you don't understand every word. Fun Home is a story full of hidden feelings and things left unsaid, so in any case, musical seems like a very fitting format for it. It feels right these characters start to sing when words fail them.

The casting of this production is flawless. Every single actor (Frida Modén Treichl as Alison, Maja Rung as Medium Alison, Fredrik Lycke as Bruce, Birthe Wingren as Helen, Elin Skarin as Joan, Emil Almén in various roles, with Mira Blommé Stahlhammer and Lily Wahlsteen alternating as Small Alison, Hugo Bremberg and Oskar Norgren as Christian and Olle af Klercker and Samuel Falkner as John) is a perfect fit, the performances are honest and true-to-life.

Alison's father Bruce, played by Fredrik Lycke, is a really interesting character. He is always tense and on the edge, but you can still sometimes see a shadow of another, happier and better man he could have been had his life been different. Birthe Wingren's take on Alison's mother Helen's big solo, Days and Days, where she talks about spending years of her life in a loveless marriage, is intense and beautiful.

But really, I want to give an extra round of applause to Mira Blommé Stahlhammer as Small Alison. She is a superstar, so confident in herself and emotionally honest. Her rendition of Ring of Keys, a song where Small Alison recognises something of herself in a butch delivery woman, is so good I couldn't help crying a little. I don't think I've ever been this touched by any child actor's performance.

Actually, all three kids (I believe we saw Oskar Norgren as Christian and Samuel Falkner as John, but please let me me if I remember this incorrectly!) are charismatic and energetic and overall incredibly talented. Their song Come to the Fun Home was certainly one of the highlights of the evening.

Oskar Norgren, Mira Blommé Stahlhammer and Samuel Falkner

An hour and 45 minutes with no pause seems like a rather long running time for a single-act show. In this case, it is not. The mood of Fun Home's premiere audience was very warm and very appreciative, and the show's pacing felt just right. The time passed before I even knew it.

Despite suicide being one of Fun Home's major themes, the show left me feeling hopeful. Alison's father made a desperate decision, and even though Alison sometimes has a hard time retelling the events of her earlier life, I got the feeling she is still doing all right. The hopeful, sometimes humorous undercurrent made the story easier to watch.

Based on this wonderful European premiere, I wish Fun Home a happy and successful conquest of Europe. With a relatively small cast and orchestra, it seems like a great fit for many smaller theatres. So, here's to hoping we'll see plenty of Fun Homes around here in the near future.

Photos by Sören Vilks.


  1. Just saw the tour a couple of nights ago. I thought it was great. And sad. But... nice. A really nice message.

    I do wish we'd seen more of the brothers. They just disappeared when Alison grew up and that seemed very weird to me.

    1. Good point about the brothers. That also somewhat happens in the graphic novel, I seem to recall, so maybe it's a reflection of that – or maybe they simply decided not to include them as grown-ups to keep the cast size as small as possible. Who knows! In any case, glad you got to see Fun Home too. :)