By LaKeshia Knarr
BALD EAGLE TOWNSHIP – After a recent outing to a Beech Creek residence, the cast of Fun Home, a musical hitting the Millbrook Playhouse Ryan Main Stage on July 28, likely need not look further for inspiration.
Unlike the Broadway cast who performed the play in 2015, this crew didn’t have to travel far. That’s because – for those of you who don’t know – the play’s storyline takes place right here in Clinton County, home of Millbrook Playhouse, 258 Country Club Lane, Mill Hall.
“They told me it was surreal,” Courtney Laine Self, director, said of the cast’s outing. “They actually rehearsed scenes from the musical in the rooms where (the original events) happened. Something like that never happens to an actor.”
The story is a relatable one: it is one about family connections, personal discovery, coming of age, coming out, and learning about family secrets. The piece unravels author Alison Bechdel’s childhood growing up in rural Beech creek and playing at Bechdel Funeral Home, where her father, Bruce, served as funeral director. His hidden desires ultimately led to an untimely death, and Alison reflects on the tragedy through this heartfelt memoir.
The family, still vividly remembered by locals, was well known. Alison’s mother, Helen, was a Millbrook performer – making the debut of the show even more special to those at the theater. In addition to funeral directing, Bruce also was employed as an English teacher at Bald Eagle-Nittany High School.
The original story, published in 2006, was written as a graphic memoir by Beech Creek native Alison Bechdel. By 2008 the text was being used for college literature classes and in 2013 it was adapted for the stage. In both forms it has been well received. The graphic memoir earned two weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list and was nominated for various awards, winning an Eisner Award. The musical, lyrics written by playwright Lisa Kron and score composed by Jeanine Tesori, was a 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist and won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical, the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical and the Obie Award for Musical Theater.
In April 2015, the show hit Broadway, and soon thereafter it received 12 nominations for the 69th Tony Awards, ultimately earning the Tony Award for Best Musical.
After the show debuted on Broadway, David Leidholdt, creative director at Millbrook Playhouse, at first wasn’t sure if the local theater would be able to bring the show to the Mill Hall stage.
“We contacted the company that licenses it and they gave us the rights. As far as I know we are the first company outside of Broadway and the national tour to be doing the show,” he explained.
Leidholdt saw that the drama leasing company Samuel Friend was offering rights for the show for the 2017 production year and he applied. He wasn’t sure it would pan out.
Just a week later, the news was in – Millbrook would be one of the first small town theaters to showcase Fun Home.
“I’ve been saying since the beginning of this process that it is a singular experience to be in the position of working on something that is so specifically connected to a community and a family within that community,” shared Director Courtney Laine Self. “And to be here in Mill Hall down the road from the Bechdel House and at Millbrook where Helen and Bruce were involved means the context of what we’re doing is personal and connected.”
That closeness has inspired a certain approach to the performance – and so has the subject matter.
“The entire team has been approaching the piece with that responsibility and we continue to be awed by the closeness we have to the material. For us, it brings the research we do to a whole other level and the work we do in the rehearsal room and design studio are enriched that much more as a result.” Self said. “We also understand the gravity of the material as well–it’s not easy subject matter. It’s honest and exposed and vulnerable. But this is the nature of family and growing up. This is the nature of change as generations pass… Fun Home is a universal story about family and identity and honesty, but for Mill Hall and Beech Creek and the area, it is also specific to your history. And for that reason, I hope it will be an event for everyone to connect and come together to share.”
The cast and producers are thrilled to be able to bring such a renowned piece to the area.
“I hope people are not only moved by the beauty of the storytelling but as the by message in the show,” said Self. “So many people have seen the Broadway production I think that they will love seeing it in their own backyard.”
Asked if it was difficult adapting the piece to the theater, she said, “No, I think it works very well in space like the Ryan Main Stage. The show can be told simply. The designers and the director have done wonders to bring this story to our stage and on a Summer Stock schedule and budget.”
Samm Carroll plays the grown-up cartoonist, Alison, trying to figure out her family’s dysfunctional dynamics as she works on her memoir. Medium Alison, an insecure college student, is played by, Holly Gould, and Small Allison is played by Anya Rothman. Alison’s father, Bruce, is played by John Tedeschi and her mother, Helen, is played by Jamie Beth Weist. The cast also includes Alison’s brothers, Christian, played by Joey Watkins, and John, played by Dane Hanna, as well as Kali Haines as Joan, and Steven Makropoulos as Roy/Mark/Pete/Bobby Jeremy.
Performances will be taking place through August 6. For show times and available tickets, visit www.millbrookplayhouse.net.