Monday, December 19, 2016.
When most people think Broadway musicals, subject matter like family secrets and self-discovery probably doesn’t come to mind. Yet hit show “Fun Home” has taken on these topics directly, while generating national acclaim and earning five Tony awards in the process.
How did this controversial but important story find its way to the stage? It involved three creative women who recognized a message that could reach broad audiences.
“Fun Home” originated as a graphic memoir written in 2006 by prominent cartoonist Alison Bechdel. Depicting her deeply personal journey of coming out and also realizing her father had been a closeted gay man, the book was a runaway success, becoming a New York Times bestseller and being named Time Magazine’s No. 1 Book of the Year.
Bechdel says she had contemplated writing the book for 20 years, finally doing so to both honor her father fully and also share the direct impact of homophobia on an actual family – hers.
“It’s a very complicated, very personal, very particular story,” Bechdel says. “As I got closer to being middle-aged, I felt an increasingly insistent need to tell it, a sense that it was in fact obligatory to tell it.”
Creating a Musical
The memoir grabbed the attention of playwright Lisa Kron and composer Jeanine Tesori, who felt the emotional storyline would be a compelling fit for stage.
Although the content might not seem obvious for a musical, they felt the show could best convey the inner feelings of its characters through song.
“Because music is such an efficient emotional delivery system, we could use it to convey the oceans of feeling swirling below the surface of this checked-out family,” Kron says.
A Lengthy Process
Adapting the memoir into a musical took Kron and Tesori six years.
One of the greatest challenges was choosing how to musicalize certain aspects of the show and which details to invent while also being true to the material, Kron says.
“We lived and breathed Alison’s story so that we could make it our own,” Kron says.
The pair worked for years before Bechdel, who ceded creative control over the production, saw the script or heard any of the songs.
Although she found the idea of her past being acted out onstage “surreal,” Bechdel says the script and score seemed to convey the heart of the story even better than her book.
“It was like they found the acupuncture points of the story and inserted needles in the exact right spots,” she says.
Success on Stage
Bechdel isn’t the only one who enjoyed their work.
After the musical’s first developmental production under the direction of Sam Gold in 2012, the show played for sold-out crowds at The Public Theater and went on to run on Broadway.
Not only did the show win five Tony awards, it made history as the first musical written entirely by women to win Best Musical. The show was also a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.
In a cartoon she wrote after the show’s Broadway opening, Bechdel only regretted that neither of her parents lived to see the production.
“My parents — who had met, as it happened, in a play — would get to go on living in one,” she wrote.
“Fun Home” runs from January 3 – January 8 at The Smith Center. For tickets and more information, visit: http://www.thesmithcenter.com/event/fun-home/
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