BY JENN MCKEE
1. It’s the first mainstream Broadway musical to feature a lesbian protagonist. Based on Alison Bechdel’s phenomenal, 2006 graphic memoir, “Fun Home” tells the story of the author at three different times in her life: as a child of 10, growing up in a rural Pennsylvania funeral home; as a college student at Oberlin who’s joyously embracing her sexuality; and as a middle-aged woman who’s trying to reconcile the fact that shortly after she came out to her family, her long-closeted father committed suicide by stepping in front of a truck.
2. You’ll see a former Miss America (who’s also the current president of Actors’ Equity) in the show’s lead role. Kate Shindle stars as middle-aged Alison in the touring company of “Fun Home.” She won the Miss America crown in 1998, while she was a junior at Northwestern University, and the cause she dedicated her year to was AIDS activism and prevention. Regarding this casting choice, Bechdel told the New York Times that “being portrayed by her in the musical feels like a lovely, twisting kind of cultural progress, like a Mobius strip – suddenly there’s this inexplicable but undeniable continuity between the marginal lesbian and the beauty queen. I find it delightful.”
3. “Fun Home” was nominated for a whopping 12 Tony Awards in 2015. It took home five, including best musical, best book of a musical (by Michigan native Lisa Kron, who was also an original member of The Five Lesbian Brothers theater company); best original score (Kron and Jeanine Tesori); and best direction of a musical (Sam Gold). Plus, Kron and Tesori’s win made history, because they were the first all-female team to ever win a Tony Award for a musical’s score, and “Fun Home” was the first show written entirely by women to win a Tony Award for best musical.
4. The reviews read like they’re written by the show creators’ best friends. Seriously. They’re just that hyperbolic and glowing, almost across the board. The New York Times’ Ben Brantley called it “a heartbreaker of a musical,” and spoke breathlessly of “this extraordinary musical, which pumps oxygenating fresh air into the cultural recycling center that is Broadway.” The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones, meanwhile, claimed it “never lets you out of its embrace for a moment,” and concluded by saying, “No wonder the audience sprang as one from its seats at the ending, and the start of living.”
5. It’s a show with activist street cred. In 2014, when South Carolina’s state legislature tried to financially punish the College of Charleston for choosing Bechdel’s graphic memoir as a reading selection for incoming freshmen, the cast of the off-Broadway production traveled to Charleston and performed a concert of songs from the show to a sold-out crowd.
6. It passes the Bechdel Test. Yes, the author of the celebrated graphic memoir that’s the basis for “Fun Home” is perhaps even more famous for the Bechdel Test – introduced to readers via her Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip – that consists of asking whether, in any given work, two female characters have a conversation that’s about something other than a man.
7. Opportunities to see the show may be rare. The Broadway production of “Fun Home” closed in mid-September, and Gold’s celebrated, extraordinary vision for the show – including sets that appear and vanish via a series of trap doors, thus mimicking memory itself – probably couldn’t be reproduced easily. Plus, this will be the first opportunity that locals have to see native daughter Kron’s latest, greatest work.