It earned a whopping 12 Tony Award nominations on Broadway, winning five including Best Musical of 2015, before going on tour for one of the most powerful musicals I have ever seen at National Theatre in 2017.
Now, D.C. gets another chance to witness it as Studio Theatre stages “Fun Home” now through Aug. 27.
“I loved it when I saw it originally,” Artistic Director David Muse told WTOP. “We thought maybe it’s time, particularly with a musical like this where I could imagine a way to do it that didn’t just feel derivative of the Broadway production. I felt there was an interesting way to turn it into a Studio production. It had great appeal.”
Adapted by Lisa Kron (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music), “Fun Home” is based on the 2006 graphic memoir by acclaimed American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who famously invented “The Bechdel Test” asking whether a play or film features at least one scene with two women talking about something other than men.
The story presents three stages of her life: the childhood of Small Alison (Quinn Titcomb), the confusing college years of Medium Alison (Maya Jacobson), and the nostalgic narration of Adult Alison (Andrea Prestinario).
“She is actually working on her first standalone graphic novel ‘Fun Home,’ which is an actual published graphic novel, and the musical is about her working on it and trying to process her father’s death and make art out of her past,” Muse said. “Alison’s father was a closeted gay man — and Alison learned that about four months after he killed himself. Now, she’s going to write this graphic novel about him and growing up and coming out.”
Beyond her memories of growing up in the family-run funeral home, hence the title “Fun Home,” the story’s core follows Alison’s autobiographical discovery of her sexual orientation, juxtaposed against the impending death of her father, Bruce Bechdel (Bobby Smith), a closeted gay man who was believed to have committed suicide.
“All of that in a way makes it feel more serious than it is,” Muse said. “I mean, ultimately it is quite serious the things that it’s dealing with, but there’s also a real kind of irreverence and fun-heartedness throughout the whole thing … the music is terrific. Jeanine Tesori is arguably the most important living composer working in the American musical theater and just won her second Tony Award at the last ceremony [for ‘Kimberly Akimbo’].”
The songs will seriously blow you away, including the title number “Come to the Fun Home.”
“The conceit is that these three kind of quirky, precocious kids in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, have come up with a commercial to advertise this funeral home that her father runs,” Muse said. “They sing a three- or four-minute commercial for the Fun Home in a Jackson 5 style, so you’ve got these three kids aged just over and under 10 years [old] singing, dancing and putting on a number. It absolutely steals the show every night.”
You’re guaranteed to laugh at the song “Changing My Major” as Medium Alison swoons over her classmate, Joan.
“It’s a sexual awaking and it’s also a kind of coming-out-style awakening where both of those things are happening at the same time in her life,” Muse said. “She’s just gotten together with a woman for the first time in her life and she’s singing about everything she’s going through. It’s such a moving ‘becoming yourself’ song and stepping into a new identity, and it’s also a hugely recognizable song for any of us having a first sexual experience.”
It all culminates with the chill-inducing song “Telephone Wire” as Alison remembers her final car ride with her father before his death, tragically pleading for him to say something “at the light, at the light, at the light.”
“It’s the communication barrier that we all experience,” Smith said. “That’s one of the reasons that the show can be universal, because of that barrier that you might have between a family member or father or mother. You both need to say something to each other … but the wires are just crossing. I think it’s sad when you get to a place in your life when you can’t communicate, but it happens to so many of us. For me, that’s what it is.”