An Author's Life Comes to Life: Alison Bechdel on Fun Home

By Adam Hetrick
09 Nov 2013

Beth Malone as Adult Alison
Photo by Joan Marcus

Tesori and Kron, Tony nominees for Caroline, or Change and Well, respectively, turned that "weird" story into the most well-reviewed new musical of the New York season, adding a few surprises of their own.

A musical number that features the Bechdel kids filming a commercial for the family business – the Bechdel Funeral Home (which the family dubs the Fun Home) – Bechdel describes as "a stroke of genius. It's this little lightning bolt of macabre humor that was shot into it that's really wonderful.

"To see it, I am actually sort of envious in the way that they've found these emotional key points in the story and they highlight them," she reflected. "Everything feels much more emotionally resonant."

Dramatic lightning strikes twice when Tesori and Kron bring the author's narrative full-circle late in the musical during a final car ride between Alison and her father, Bruce, played by Tony winner Michael Cerveris. Bechdel recalled breaking into spontaneous sobs when she saw the scene for the first time during readings.

"It's incredibly cathartic," she said of the scene, which we won't spoil here. "It's hard for me to see the play with other people, because I feel sort of self-conscious. I certainly know that the creative team has been eager to see how I respond. It makes me anxious knowing that people are looking at my response. I don't know what it's like for someone who that's not their personal life. In a way, I'm not at all an objective observer."

Bechdel, who came out when she was 19, says she is encouraged to see that Tesori, Kron and Fun Home are charting new territory in a medium that has been strongly shaped by gay male culture on stage and off. Lesbian musicals are nearly unheard of. "Even musicals about women, where women are the central characters and not just a romantic lead and really have a story of their own [are rare]," Bechdel said. "The moment with Small Alison singing about the butch delivery woman feels huge. To have a child sing about desire and identification; it's brilliant."

Upon its 2006 publication, Time Magazine not only described "Fun Home" as a "masterpiece," they named it the #1 Book of the Year. Seven years later, opening-night critics lavished similar unanimous praise on the musical. "I've been in this stunned and grateful state," Bechdel said. "I've been given the biggest gift in the world."

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Beth Malone, Alexandra Socha and Judy Kuhn
Photo by Joan Marcus