The song, titled "Ring of Keys," is one of Fun Home's emotional highpoints. Performed by Young Alison, it reveals a moment of sexual and emotional identification as the young girl sees a butch lesbian across a local diner.
The moment is so powerful that the show's producers chose to perform it as their showcase number during the 2015 Tony Awards in which Fun Home took home Best Musical.
I had the pleasure of moderating the panel, which also included cast members Michael Cerveris, Judy Kuhn and Emily Skeggs. I asked Kron, who won the Tony Award for Book and Lyrics on Fun Home (she collaborated with fellow Tony-winning composer Jeanine Tesori), about how she created the moment and if she had a personal "Ring of Keys" moments in her own life:
"I don't know that I have a personal counterpart to that moment, but in terms of how it was written... It's a very striking set of three or four panels in the book and Jeanine [Tesori] said, 'We have to write a song about this moment.' And I said, 'I don't think that's a good idea.' Because what I feared was that I didn't know how to do it without setting up the audience to laugh at that butch woman. And I thought, 'If we do this song and the audience laughs at her...' I couldn't bear it. I can't make that show. And the portrayal of 'butchness' in the show, from the very beginning, was something that I was very concerned about how we would succeed at doing it. It's an elusive thing. It's not about maleness. It's something else. If you understand that dynamic, it's very clear to you what it is. If it's not something you've encountered, in my experience, it's something that's actually hard to make clear what it is.
"So I said to Jeanine, 'I don't think this is a good idea. I think it's a set up for a reaction that we don't want.' And she said, 'Well, we have to do it anyway.' And I said, 'Okay,' because as has been borne out, one of the smartest things I did in the making of Fun Home, was that I did whatever Jeanine told me.
"But then finding the language was very tricky. I was sort of looking through the eyes of this little girl and thinking, 'What is she seeing?' And then there were all kinds of descriptive words. So, lace-up boots, there were all kinds of other descriptors for the boots that I knew would tap people into pre-existing stereotypes of that woman as a joke. So to find language that was authentically what this little girl might say, and then also that sounded new that didn't tap into those other things. That was the trick of it. Jeanine really latched onto the ring of keys. She has a daughter, and she thought, 'That's where a little girl's eyes would go... to the keys.'
"And when it was at that Public, particularly in the very beginning, people would laugh at the beginning. They would laugh at those descriptions of her, laugh at the ring of keys, they would laugh in all kinds of different ways. And it was amazing to watch Sydney Lucas, and now to watch [Gabriella Pizzolo], the presence of this child to stick to what she was doing. To have the audience [with her] through the bridge, 'Do you feel my heart saying hi?' And how the picture of that woman that was being painted, [you could] feel it being changed in the imaginative mind of the audience. It was really really moving to feel that."