When Brooke Wood was introduced to the musical “Fun Home,” she worked backward. After the musical won several Tony Awards, including best musical, best book of a musical and best original score, Wood decided to download the music.
After falling in love with the soundtrack, she bought the graphic memoir on which the musical is based, “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel.
“I always like musicals that are a little more avant-garde or not like what you think a musical would be,” she said. “And I love smaller companies, as well. … I felt that it was a very timely and beautiful story and something that definitely was not something that we had normally seen at that point.”
In the musical, audiences meet Alison (Ann Benson), Small Alison (Ruby Krajic) and Middle Alison (Olivia Davies). In other words, graphic novelist Bechdel during three periods of her life.
After her father’s unexpected death, Bechdel reflects on her past to tell his story, recalling time spent playing at the family’s funeral home, coming to understand her own sexuality and “the looming, unanswerable questions about her father’s hidden desires.”
“Fun Home” opened Off-Broadway in 2013 and on Broadway in 2015. Both the Off-Broadway and Broadway productions were nominated for, and won, multiple awards. The musical also was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Lake City Playhouse’s production of “Fun Home” opens today and continues through Feb. 2. The musical is directed by Wood, with musical direction by Heather Brown and choreography by Crystal Bain.
The production also stars Josh Koester (Bruce), Simon Daly (Joan), Rebecca Walker (Helen), Niko Lucky (Christian), Max Holm (John) and Gabriel Single-Schwall (Roy/Mark/Pete/Bobby).
Casting three actors for the same role was at once challenging and not unfamiliar territory for Wood. She had previously cast three actors for one character in Lake City’s production of “Bonnie and Clyde.”
But in that production, the younger versions of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow appeared once during the musical to show that the characters were aging. With “Fun Home,” audiences hear from all three Alisons throughout the musical.
“It was really important to me that they were tangible, that it was easy for you to believe they were maybe the same person but also just love them,” Wood said. “If you don’t truly have a space in your heart for the women playing Alison, the show probably wouldn’t work.”
Wood wanted audiences to feel like Alison was growing and becoming more accepting during the show, so, when casting Small Alison, she was looking for a young actor who could be strong-willed but also show that she was working through family issues and her own troubles.
When casting Middle Alison, Wood said Davies owned the role as soon as she auditioned. “When she plays it, you can’t help but want to put her in your pocket and take her home,” Wood said.
“She’s just endearing as all get out, and she takes on this role as a young woman struggling with her identity and who she is and her sexuality and all these things. She makes you feel like even if you’re not somebody who has those issues, you totally understand her, and you totally want to root for her and her happiness.”
Which brought Wood to the character of Alison, who never leaves the stage even when her younger counterparts are performing. Wood was looking for someone who could carry their own weight onstage and understood how important “Fun Home” is to the LGBTQ community and how it handles family dynamics.
“We can get over what’s been laid out in front of us, and we can overcome with great beauty,” Wood said. “By the end of the show, Ann breaks your heart, and then she puts it back together. She does an absolutely beautiful job.
“The three women are really seamless, and I think when people watch it, they’ll be able to go ‘That could totally be the same person,’ but at the same time, they’ll give each actor their own merit for their part of the character.”
In the beginning of rehearsals, Wood suggested the three actors observe one another to identify traits they could share onstage. Davies, for example, noticed that Krajic and Benson bite their nails, so she decided to add that into her scenes too.
“I think part of it might be developed, but I think the other part of it is that they are a little bit alike,” Wood said.
Lake City Playhouse’s production of “Fun Home” marks the musical’s regional premiere, and Wood said she, the cast and the board are very proud to have the opportunity to share the story, which tackles heavy themes of sexuality, suicide and acceptance while still being humorous.
“The greatest goal in theater and in art is not only to entertain but to educate and make us see the world through others’ eyes, and that’s what this show does,” Wood said. “We want to make sure that we do it justice.”
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