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Tracie Pang brings Tony-winning musical to local stage
TRACIE Pang is one of the most lauded theatre directors in Singapore. Over the years, she's proven herself to be particularly adept at directing dark or heart-wrenching stories such as Rabbit Hole, Next To Normal, Fat Pig and The Pillowman.
Earlier this year, she earned a long-overdue Best Director trophy for helming last year's powerful drama Falling, about a family struggling to raise an autistic child. It was her 10th nomination at the M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards and, unfairly, her first win.
Next week, her theatre company Pangdemonium, which she leads with co-artistic director and husband Adrian Pang, is opening Fun Home - a musical so simultaneously charged with tragedy and comedy, it's hard to believe it exists at all.
Fun Home is based on a 2006 graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel and tells the coming-of-age story of a young woman who discovers the secrets of her eccentric father. When it was adapted into a musical by composer Jeanine Tesori and book writer and lyricist Lisa Kron in 2013, it created a sensation off-Broadway and went on to win five Tony awards in 2015, including Best Musical.
The cast of Pangdemonium's Fun Home is led by Adrian Pang as the enigmatic father Bruce and Nikki Muller as Alison, the daughter who witnesses his unravelling. The supporting actors include five children aged between 9 and 13, playing the roles of young Alison and her two brothers.
Ironically, despite having children in its cast, the musical has been slapped with R18 rating and can be watched only by audiences aged 18 and above, because it deals with "controversial topics" such as a "brokeback marriage" and lesbianism.
Tracie Pang says: "We're no longer surprised by the irony. We just feel that it's a real pity that younger teens don't get to see Fun Home because we know there are many teens to whom this story will mean a great deal.
"It's a family drama that follows one woman's road to self-acceptance, self-empowerment and freeing herself from the shackles of her family. And while this is a very particular story of a dysfunctional family undone by secrets and lies, we are sure many people will see their own family mirrored in the various characters."
Anyone who has read the 2006 bestselling memoir will also be surprised by how well the story is transferred from page to stage, with music to boot. Tracie Pang describes the music as "intimate, poignant and powerful". "Even Bechdel herself was surprised that her dispassionate and cerebral graphic memoir had somehow been interpreted into such a heart-wrenching and joyful musical."
One of the key challenges of staging Fun Home is working with child actors who must bring to life a story filled with adult topics such as sex and deceit. But Tracie Pang says she has "always believed that it's important to be honest and unafraid in exploring a script, so that we can get truthful performances from the actors - no matter what their age".
Thus she has to make sure that not only the kids are comfortable with the story, but that their parents are also on board. "As parents ourselves, Adrian and I have always wanted to be the ones to explain things to our sons. So with this particular production, whenever there is a tricky question being asked by the young actors, we consult their parents and address the questions accordingly - but always truthfully."
Asked why, as a director, she's always drawn to dark, dramatic material instead of light-hearted comedies,
She replies: "I want to get something out of the theatre experience that is much more than just 'easy' entertainment. I want to be stimulated to think outside of my comfort zone, and to be provoked to feel a little uncomfortable, to question, to challenge, and to find a new perspective on life. I just think that I get that kind of experience in what some people might see as 'darker' material."
- Fun Home (R18) runs from Sept 29 to Oct 15 at the Drama Centre Theatre. Tickets priced from S$25 available at Sistic.