The first Broadway show I ever went to was “Godspell”. It was the early seventies. I was so young, it didn’t matter that the musical was about the Gospel of Matthew. I didn’t know the bible from Adam and Eve at the time. I only knew I loved the music and the amazing sadness and joy intermixed with a terrific score. I imagined becoming an actor and performing it on stage, so I could make someone out there feel as expansive and tingly as I did when I saw it. (I never became an actor.)
Then came “A Chorus Line”. Just in time for middle school, where adolescence was breaking through. “Too young to take over. Too old to ignore. Gee, I’m almost ready! But…What..FOR?” And don’t get me started about “Tits and ass.” Obsessed is the likely word for my love of this show. I was about to enter life and all its auditions. What better way than to dance in front of the mirror and practice piano to play for grandma because…”all those lessons.”
But then came ‘Fun Home’, the groundbreaking, Tony award winning musical that started at The Public four years ago and ran on Broadway for over a year which closed on Saturday night after a successful run.
Back in May of 2015, when I was getting ready for a trip back home, a neighbor of mine in Los Angeles, a playwright herself, told me about this show called ‘Fun Home’. “Get your tickets now, because it will be sold out!”
I didn’t get tickets. I couldn’t. It was sold out.
But I was intrigued after the show won Tony for Best Musical, Actor, Composer, Writer…etc… to listen to the cast recording. How good could this be? Even the biggest hits on Broadway sound so…boring to me. If it isn’t Sondheim, it’s nap time.
I bought the score on iTunes and listened. I was floored. It was charming, sweeping – a lovely chamber play of intimate memories and melodic hooks. Each track of the cast recording was a journey of memories, Jackson 5 and Partridge Family infused amazingness until ‘Telephone Wire” – the song that gutted me. The song that was the last car ride, the last moment to talk to your dad that one last time. When an opportunity missed leaves a big empty void of questions for you to figure out in time.
I was hooked. Completely. Indeed, I was obsessed with the story and the music. I was back in NYC a few months later with tickets.
‘Fun Home’ WAS home.
“Come to the Fun Home…the Bechdel Funeral Home, baby!”
And I did. Three times. I’ve never seen a show more than once – not even ‘Hedwig’ – my beautiful broken down rock goddess.
Three times. Some have visited Maple Avenue (the street where the Bechdel family lived in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania) even more.
For one year, ‘Fun Home’ was my New York home. I’d prepare for a NYC trip and part of that prep was getting a seat at Circle in the Square to share time with the Bechdel family.
The intimacy of the theater and the simple elements of this complicated story (based on the graphic novel of the same name by Alison Bechdel) revealed deep universal themes. It was about sexuality and repression. It was about a lesbian coming out and living her true identity when her father (closeted) became overwhelmed by living out his own truth.
But, the particulars and details don’t have to match the audience member’s personal story. They didn’t match mine.
Yet, the theme of family and memory in this show, which embarks on its national tour this Fall, matches everyone.
It’s the world of imagination you find in the midst of hearing your parents argue.
It’s the fun you seek despite the harsh reality of your family’s personal isolation and your folks’ own sacrifice.
It’s about the element of childhood, when you felt safe until you grew up and had to walk the tight rope of existence.
It’s about the joy of being authentic and the perils of not living your true self.
It’s about becoming an artist.
It’s about fathers and daughters.
It’s about memory and placing yourself in the shoes of your parents when they were the same age you are now.
It’s about love.
And it’s also, once again, about the music – gorgeously poignant. So many 11 o’clock numbers in this one, but the final rundown of ‘Days and Days’, ‘Telephone Wire, “Edges of the World’ and ‘Flying’ make it a veritable ‘Abbey Road’ side two rush of one song after another, racing with quiet urgency, until the final heart stopping goodbye for the night.
“Caption: Every so often there was a rare moment of perfect balance, when I soared above you.”
And on Saturday, the cast took their final bows for real. It was the end of this contemplation – the end of mourning for lives that didn’t allow themselves to live and a celebration of those that did.
‘Godspell’ and ‘A Chorus Line’ never did that to me.
Thank you Alison Bechdel, Lisa Kron, Jeanine Tesori, Sam Gold, Michael Cerveris, Judy Kuhn, Beth Malone, Emily Skeggs, Joel Perez, Roberta Colindrez, Sydney Lucas, Gabby Pizzolo, Oscar Williams, Zell Steele Morrow, Lauren Patton, Jim Stanek, the talented orchestra, and all the swings and understudies I followed on social media and loved for their quiet stand-by devotion. Thank you for being an inspiration, a warm blanket, a catharsis and a wonder. I won’t be able to go home the same way again.
And thank you sweet little Evangeline for being the back stage show mascot.