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Fun Home is a musical adapted by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori from Alison Bechdel's 2006 graphic memoir of the same name. The story concerns Bechdel's discovery of her own sexuality, her relationship with her gay father, and her attempts to unlock the mysteries surrounding his life. It is the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist. It is told in a series of non-linear vignettes connected by narration provided by the adult Alison character.

The musical was developed through several readings and performances, including at the Ojai Playwrights Conference in 2009 and at the Sundance Theatre Lab and The Public Theater's Public Lab in 2012. It opened Off-Broadway at the Public Theater in September 2013 to positive reviews. Its run was extended several times, until January 2014. The Public Theater production of Fun Home was nominated for nine Lucille Lortel Awards(winning three, including Outstanding Musical), two Obie Awards and eight Drama Desk Awards, among others.

The original Broadway production began previews at the Circle in the Square Theatre in March 2015 and opened in April 2015. It was nominated for twelve Tony Awards, winning five, including Best Musical, and its cast album received a nomination for the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. The production closed on September 10, 2016. A US national tour and foreign productions followed.

Background and development] Edit

Writer/artist Alison Bechdel's book Fun Home, a memoir in comics format, was published in 2006 to critical acclaim. Its subject is Alison Bechdel's coming of age, with particular emphasis on her relationship to her father, Bruce. Bechdel's coming out as a lesbian is complicated by the revelation that Bruce was a closeted homosexual whose extra-marital affairs included underage males. Four months after Bechdel comes out to her parents, Bruce is killed by an oncoming truck; although the evidence is equivocal, Bechdel concludes that he committed suicide.

Bechdel's book was adapted into a musical with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori. Writing in Slate, June Thomas called the play "the first mainstream musical about a young lesbian". The adaptation was developed over the course of five years. It was first workshopped at the Ojai Playwrights Conference in August 2009. A staged reading was performed at The Public Theater in 2011. (Of the cast of that staged reading, only Judy Kuhn and Beth Malone continued in their roles to the full Off-Broadway production.) The musical had another workshop as part of the Sundance Institute's Theater Lab in July 2012, featuring Raul Esparza. Following that it ran for three weeks as part of the Public Theater's Public Lab series in October and November 2012. On April 8, 2013, musical selections from the play were performed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, Judy Kuhn, David Hyde Pierce and others at an event for the Sundance Institute. A final Public Theater workshop was held in May 2013.

The musical's development process entailed extensive changes and rewrites. Beth Malone said that the original workshop script "doesn't resemble this current play at all". In early versions, the production was structured around Bechdel's drawings, but the creators later removed most of this element, save for one image of Bruce and young Alison which is used at the musical's conclusion. Revisions continued through the preview period of the Off-Broadway production, requiring the actors to perform new material every night.

Productions Edit

Fun Home premiered Off-Broadway at The Public Theater in previews on September 30, 2013, and opened officially on October 22, 2013. Originally scheduled to run through November 3, 2013, the run was extended several times, and the musical closed on January 12, 2014. The production was directed by Sam Gold, with sets and costumes by David Zinn, lighting by Ben Stanton, projections by Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg, and choreography by Danny Mefford. In response to a controversy in which the legislature of South Carolina attempted to financially punish the College of Charleston for choosing the original graphic novel of Fun Home as a reading selection for incoming freshmen, the off-Broadway cast presented a concert of songs from the musical to a full house in Charleston, South Carolina, in April 2014. Bechdel, Kron, Tesori and musical director Chris Fenwick accompanied the cast.

The musical began previews at Broadway's Circle in the Square Theatre on March 27, 2015, with an official opening on April 19, 2015. Gold directed the show on Broadway, with the same production team as the Off-Broadway production, including Zinn, Mefford and Stanton. The Off-Broadway cast reprised their roles on Broadway, except for the actors playing Medium Alison, John and Christian Bechdel. In December 2015, eight months after opening on Broadway, the show recouped its capitalization and began to make a profit. Costs for the show were relatively low due to a small cast and orchestra. The production closed on September 10, 2016, after 26 previews and 582 regular performances.

A year-long U.S. national tour of the show began in Cleveland, Ohio, in October 2016. The tour was directed by Sam Gold and starred Kate Shindle as Alison and Robert Petkoff as Bruce. The first international production of Fun Home premiered in Manila, Philippines, in November 2016, with Cris Villonco as Alison, Lea Salonga as Helen and Eric Kunze as Bruce. The production was directed by Bobby Garcia. The limited run of 18 performances closed on November 27, 2016. A review in ABS-CBN Newspraised the performances and direction and called the production "undeniably moving, piercing through our core, and performed by an incredibly talented ensemble." The first U.S. regional production was in Burlington, Vermont, where Bechdel wrote the graphic memoir, by Vermont Stage Company; it ran for 29 performances in October 2017. Singapore's Pangdemonium theatre company staged Fun Home in September and October 2017 at the Drama Centre Theatre, with a cast that includes Adrian Pang and Monique Wilson.

A Canadian production played in February and March 2018 at the Arts Club in Vancouver. In June 2018, the musical made its London premiere at the Off West End Young Vic theatre with Gold again directing. It stars Kaisa Hammarlund as Alison, Zubin Varla as Bruce and Jenna Russell as Helen and is scheduled to run until September 2018.

Plot summary Edit

As she works on her memoir in the present day, successful middle-aged cartoonist Alison Bechdel (Alison) recalls two time periods in her life. The first is her childhood, around age 10 (Small Alison), when she struggles against her father Bruce's obsessive demands and begins to identify her inchoate sexuality. The second is her first year in college (Medium Alison), when she begins her first relationship and comes out of the closet as a lesbian.

Alison remembers herself, as a child, demanding that her father Bruce play "airplane" with her, while he sorts through a box of junk and valuables he has salvaged from a barn ("It All Comes Back"). Bruce tells the family that a visitor from the local historical society is coming to see their ornate Victorian home that he has restored, and his wife Helen prepares the house to Bruce's demanding aesthetic standard ("Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue"). In a phone call with her father and a journal entry, Medium Alison expresses her anxiety about starting college ("Not Too Bad"). At the Bechdel Funeral Home, Small Alison and her brothers John and Christian perform an imaginary advertisement for the funeral home ("Come to the Fun Home"). Medium Alison hesitates outside the door of the college's Gay Union, and is flummoxed when she meets Joan, a confident young lesbian. Bruce invites into the house Roy, a young man whom he has hired to do yard work. Bruce begins to seduce Roy in the library while Helen is playing the piano upstairs, trying her best to ignore it ("Helen's Etude").

Medium Alison writes a letter to her parents about college life but does not mention Joan or her recent realization that she is a lesbian. Bruce orders Small Alison to put on a dress, but she would rather wear jeans. Bruce tells her that the other children would laugh at her; she reluctantly obeys him ("Party Dress"). Medium Alison proudly tells Joan that she has written a letter to her parents telling them that she is a lesbian, but begins to second-guess herself until Joan kisses her. That night, she is delirious with joy after having had sex with Joan and finally discovering her sexuality ("Changing My Major").

Alison considers the connection between her coming out and her father's death. Small Alison has a homework assignment to draw a map of places her family has lived, but Bruce aggressively takes over, drawing it the way he thinks it should look. Alison realizes that despite having traveled widely, her father's place of birth, life, work and death can all be placed in a small circle in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania ("Maps"). Bruce offers a ride and a beer to an underage boy, and it is later implied that they had a sexual encounter. Medium Alison writes to her parents, asking for a response to her coming-out letter. Small Alison watches The Partridge Family, but Bruce angrily switches it off. Small Alison talks to him, and finds out that he is going to see a psychiatrist, but he is ambiguous about the reason. Alison expresses annoyance that he lied to her; the reason he was going was because he was arrested for what he did to the underage boy. Helen attempts to reassure Small Alison that the psychiatrist will help her father, but she too refuses to elaborate. Bruce starts a vicious argument with Helen and breaks several of her possessions along with some library books. Small Alison fantasizes about her family as the happy family singing together on television ("Raincoat of Love").

Alison remembers a time when Bruce took her and her brothers on a trip to New York City. After a long day, Small Alison, Christian and John settle into sleeping bags. Small Alison wakes up and catches Bruce sneaking out. Bruce sings her a lullaby ("Pony Girl"). He reassures his daughter that he's just going out for a paper, but Alison realizes he was probably going cruising. Medium Alison is angered by a noncommittal letter from Bruce responding to her coming out. At a luncheonette with her father, Small Alison notices a butch delivery woman and feels an inexplicable kinship with her ("Ring of Keys").

Medium Alison calls home to demand a better response from her parents and is astonished when her mother reveals that her father has had sexual relationships with men and boys. Alison explores the tensions her family was under at this time and watches a heated argument between her parents. Medium Alison returns home for vacation with Joan. Helen confesses to Medium Alison her troubled and turbulent life with Bruce ("Days and Days"). Medium Alison, Joan and Bruce have an unexpectedly pleasant evening around the piano. Bruce asks Alison if she'd like to go for a drive, and (adult) Alison realizes that Medium Alison is gone; she joins her father in the car, breaking the boundaries of time. On the drive, she and Bruce struggle to express themselves to each other ("Telephone Wire").

Bruce, manically engaged in a new restoration project, tries and fails to find a way to hold his life together. He steps in front of a truck and is killed ("Edges of the World"). Alison, newly reconciled to her past, remembers and draws a moment of perfect balance: playing "airplane" with her father, while reminiscing about the past with the other Alisons ("Flying Away").

Characters and original casts Edit

The character of Alison Bechdel is portrayed by three actors. 43-year-old "Alison" is the play's narrator who reviews her family and early life, 19-year-old "Medium Alison" who is an Oberlin student discovering her sexuality, and 10-year-old "Small Alison" who is a child struggling against her father's expectations.

The original casts are as follows:

Character Off-Broadway Cast (2013) Broadway Cast (2015) First U.S. National Tour Cast (2016) Original London Cast (2018)
Alison Bechdel Beth Malone Kate Shindle Kaisa Hammarlund
Bruce Bechdel Michael Cerveris Robert Petkoff Zubin Varla
Helen Bechdel Judy Kuhn Susan Moniz Jenna Russell
Small Alison Sydney Lucas Alessandra Baldacchino Brooke Haynes

Harriet Turnball

Medium Alison Alexandra Socha Emily Skeggs Abby Corrigan Eleanor Kane
Christian Bechdel Griffin Birney Oscar Williams Pierson Salvador Charlie McLellan

Archie Smith

John Bechdel Noah Hinsdale Zell Morrow Lennon Nate Hammond Eddie Martin

Ramsay Robertson

Joan Roberta Colindrez Karen Eilbacher Cherrelle Skeete
Roy/Mark/Pete/Bobby Jeremy Joel Perez Robert Hager Ashley Samuels
Notes
  • In November 2013, Socha was replaced as Medium Alison by her understudy, Skeggs. In October 2015, Lucas was replaced as Small Alison by her understudy, Gabriella Pizzolo.
  • Standby Lauren Patten played the role of Medium Alison from February 2 to May 22, 2016, while Skeggs was shooting a TV project. Skeggs returned to the role on May 24.
  • Williams departed the Broadway company on March 27, 2016, and was replaced by Cole Grey as Christian.
  • Rebecca Luker played the role of Helen from April 5 through May 22, 2016, while Kuhn underwent hip surgery. Kuhn returned to the role on May 24.

Songs and recordings Edit

Since the songs in Fun Home are closely integrated into the script, no list of songs was provided in the program.

The original cast album, released in 2014, opened at #2 on the Billboard Top Cast Album Chart, a remarkable feat for an Off-Broadway cast album. After the musical opened on Broadway in 2015, new portions of the show were recorded, and parts were re-recorded, especially to feature Emily Skeggs in the role of Medium Alison. It also includes more dialogue to help the listener follow the story. The song "Party Dress" was added for Small Alison in place of "Al for Short", as the latter has been removed from the Broadway show. A dialogue scene, "Clueless in New York", replaced "I need more coffee". Bruce's short a capella bedtime song, "Pony Girl" was added, as was the scene "A flair for the dramatic...". The album was released in May 2015.

The track list of the 2015 release, which reflects the musical numbers in the Broadway production, is as follows:

  • 1. "It All Comes Back (Opening)" – Small Alison, Bruce, Alison & Company
  • 2. "Sometimes my father appeared to enjoy having children..." – Alison, Bruce & Helen
  • 3. "Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue" – Helen, Alison, Small Alison, Christian, John, Bruce & Roy
  • 4. "Not Too Bad" – Medium Alison
  • 5. "Just had a good talk with Dad..." – Alison, Medium Alison, Bruce, Pete, Small Alison, John & Christian
  • 6. "Come to the Fun Home" – John, Christian & Small Alison
  • 7. "Helen’s Etude" – Alison, Roy, Bruce, Small Alison, Helen, John, Christian & Medium Alison
  • 8. "Thanks for the care package..." – Medium Alison, Joan, Small Alison & Bruce
  • 9. "Party Dress" – Small Alison, Bruce, Medium Alison, Alison
  • 10. "Changing My Major" – Medium Alison
  • 11. "I leapt out of the closet..." – Alison, Small Alison, Bruce & Helen
  • 12. "Maps" – Alison
  • 13. "Read a book..." – Bruce, Small Alison, Alison & Helen
  • 14. "Raincoat of Love" – Bobby Jeremy & Company
  • 15. "Clueless in New York…" – Alison, Small Alison & Bruce
  • 16. "Pony Girl" – Bruce
  • 17. "A flair for the dramatic…" – Alison, Joan, Medium Alison & Bruce
  • 18. "Ring of Keys" – Small Alison & Alison
  • 19. "Let me introduce you to my gay dad..." – Joan, Medium Alison, Alison, Bruce & Small Alison
  • 20. "Shortly after we were married..." – Helen & Medium Alison
  • 21. "Days and Days" – Helen
  • 22. "You ready to go for that drive?..." – Bruce & Alison
  • 23. "Telephone Wire" – Alison & Bruce
  • 24. "It was great to have you home..." – Bruce & Alison
  • 25. "Edges of the World" – Bruce
  • 26. "This is what I have of you..." – Alison
  • 27. "Flying Away (Finale)" – Alison, Medium Alison & Small Alison
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