By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Broadway welcomed its first lesbian lead character in the musical "Fun Home" with open arms and glowing reviews, praising the groundbreaking show for its originality and sensitivity.
The musical, which opened at the Circle in the Square Theater on Sunday night, was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for drama and enjoyed a sold-out, extended run Off Broadway.
It is based on the best-selling graphic memoir, "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic," by lesbian writer/cartoonist Alison Bechdel about her dysfunctional family and childhood in rural Pennsylvania in a funeral home run by her father, a closeted gay man who also taught English.
Bechdel, played by three actresses at different times in her life, comes to terms with her own sexuality and her difficult relationship with her father in the non-linear musical.
"It's unconventional grist, to be sure, and musical theater is better for it," said New York's Daily News. "The material is handled with such delicacy and expertise that it speaks universally about big things that matter: life, love, family, surviving."
The New York Time described it "an extraordinary musical, which pumps oxygenating fresh air into the cultural recycling center that is Broadway," while the trade magazine Variety dubbed it "New! Fresh! Original!"
Lisa Kron, a multiple Tony nominee, adapted Bechdel's book and provided the lyrics for Jeanine Tesori's score for the show that is staged in the round by director Sam Gold.
Actress Beth Malone is the adult Bechdel, as she reminisces about growing up in the funeral home, which is shortened to 'fun home' by the family. Emily Skeggs, as the college student, and Sydney Lucas, as a child, are younger versions of the author.
"Each performance brings something distinctive yet inextricably interrelated to the role," said "The Hollywood Reporter."
Michael Cerveris, a Tony winner for "Assassins," is Bechdel's domineering father, Bruce, and Judy Kuhn is his long-suffering wife Helen.
The New York Times said Cerveris has the toughest role is the musical and handles it adeptly.
"Bruce just isn't a man with a double life, but a character shaped with love and exasperation, recrimination and guilt by Alison's recollection of him," it said, adding Cerveris is "both irresistible and forbidding, warmly accessible and icily opaque."
The Hollywood Reporter said "Fun Home" is a risky production for Broadway, which tends to be mainstream.
"But for anyone who cares about adventurous musical theater, it's not to be missed."
(Editing by Grant McCool)