The Tony-winning victory of Fun Home, the musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel's graphic novel memoir, made history in more ways than one June 7.
Fun Home, which took home five Tony Awards for Book, Score, Director and Actor, as well as Best Musical of the 2014-15 season, was considered by many to be a risky investment for Broadway. The material is inspired by Bechdel's memoir about coming out as a lesbian and the subsequent suicide of her father, who was a closeted homosexual — heavy material for a commercial run in a market that is typically filled with upbeat musical adaptations of popular movies.
"We made the show really for ourselves," director Sam Gold told Playbill.com shortly after accepting the Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical. "We cared about the material; we believed in what it had to say."
Despite his own passion for the material, Gold said he was surprised by the musical's impact. A finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize, Fun Home received its world premiere in October 2013 at the Public Theater, where its run was extended through January 2014 before opening on Broadway in April 2015.
"It was a very ambitious show, and I think none of us pictured the way it was going to touch so many people and how wide of an audience we'd find and how deeply people would connect with the material," Gold continued. "That's been a real surprise and a real affirmation that if you care about something and commit to something, that can grow."
Fun Home's Broadway opening and subsequent Tony victories marked the first time a musical with a lesbian protagonist played Broadway and one of the very few that has featured book, music and lyrics by women. The history-making Tony win — the first time a musical written only by women won Best Book, Score and Muscal — was a proud moment for Tesori and Kron, who shared their hopes for future female composers and writers with Playbill.
"We just hope that will inspire other people," Tesori said in the press room at the Tony Awards. "We need to enlist women to write music for musicals as a career — to start when they're teenagers. You [Kron] said something that was so smart: You need to… do it again and again. And again. And again. That's the way you learn. You can't learn just by studying it. You have to do it. And live theatre is expensive. It's not a novel. You can't do it by yourself. You have to have other people with you."
The broadcast of the Tony Awards, which included a live performance of Fun Home star Sydney Lucas singing the song "Ring of Keys," offered a wider audience of theatregoers access to the musical. This access is crucial, Kron said, adding, "There were a lot of people watching today who don't usually watch the Tonys — who felt like what happens on Broadway doesn't really speak to them. And that feels incredibly exciting that we could make those people feel seen and like they're a part of this." Read more about Tesori and Kron and their thoughts about women on Broadway here.
The cast of Fun Home features Broadway veterans (Michael Cerveris, Judy Kuhn) alongside young newcomers (Lucas, Oscar Williams, Zell Steele Morrow). While Cerveris initially thought discussing topics like sexuality and suicide with the children might be difficult, their grasp of the subjects proved to be enlightening for him.
"People ask, 'How do you explain the theme to the kids?' The truth is we just told them," Cerveris said at the Tony Awards. "It made us be very rigorous about what actually is this moment about. When you start to boil it down to the essentials, it's actually pretty simple. And they understand. 'This person likes that person. OK. I don't understand what the complication was.' Having them around makes you start to see it that way and realize that we aren't born hating people. We learn it."
Playing the father of three children was also enlightening for Cerveris. After initially focusing so much on Bruce's sexuality, he was surprised to realize he needed to focus on being a father as well, leading him to think about his own father, who also had three children. This revelation helped him to understand the role and his own thought process, which focused on Bruce's sexual orientation more than his overall life, differently.
"We force people to identify themselves first according to their race or sexual orientation or any number of things," he said. "You force them to sort of make a version of themselves that is not necessarily who they are. You can be any kind of those things. But are you a good person? Are you a thoughtful person? Are you a compassionate person? I've fallen into the same trap of sort of looking at the details and not looking at the essence of the person."
The impact of Fun Home, which, following its Tony victories saw an increase in ticket sales, could be far-reaching, and it has already resonated deeply with theatregoers. Cerveris told Playbill.com in a previous interview that he had received messages from people who said his performance as Bruce had inspired them personally.
"I got a message on Facebook from somebody I don't know well who wrote a really personal note about what the show has meant to him since he saw it and that he hasn't been able to stop thinking about it," Cerveris said. "He's made the decision that he doesn't want his life to end up like Bruce's, and he's going to tell his family his secret. It's just an extraordinary thing to be part of something that is really affecting people's lives… We like to tell ourselves that doing theatre can change the world. It's amazing to actually be a part of something that proves that that's true. And this is a time when that's possible."
When thinking about Fun Home, and his young co-stars, Cerveris shared his hopes for the future of the theatre industry and what Lucas, Williams and Morrow will watch (or perform) on future broadcasts of the Tony Awards.
"I hope it will seem strange to them that there was a time when people had to apologize or hide who they were and that people couldn't marry who they wanted to, couldn't be taken care of or take care of who they want to," he said. "I want that for my nephew, who was sitting with me and watched all of this happen tonight. I feel like the fact that our show has been embraced the way it has is a hopeful indication that the grand march of history is towards that. I'm sure there are hurdles along the way still. But that would be my hope."
(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Playbill.com. Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)