Carole Shorenstein Hays announced last evening at the Curran Theater that the venue, currently under renovation, will reopen on January 25, 2017 with the Tony Award-winning musical, Fun Home.
Hays then turned the stage over to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who held forth in conversation for the next hour-plus with creator Alison Bechdel, as well as with the musical's creative team: director Sam Gold, lyricist Lisa Kron, and Jeanine Tesori (who wrote the music). For their work, the trio won Tony Awards for Best Direction, Best Book, and Best Score (respectively).
It's a musical borne of tragedy, Newsom noted. Bechdel's 2006 graphic memoir of the same name, subtitled A Family Tragicomic, chronicles her upbringing with a funeral director father — “fun home” was the inside joke for “funeral home” — a closeted gay man who quite likely took his own life.
Wearing a red-and-white checkered button-down shirt and gray sneakers with red soles, Bechdel agreed with Newsom's assessment: “It was the hardest thing I've ever done,” she said, “revealing the secret my family was structured around.” She referred to the seven-year writing process as a “psychic leap,” pointing out that her family was quite supportive of the project, and that her parents would probably be tickled if they saw fictionalized versions of themselves on stage.
Director Sam Gold said that he “came in as a fan first” — one who later barged into Bechdel's house with a film crew — although he confessed he'd privately admitted to Kron and Tesori that translating a non-linear narrative with three versions of Alison was “impossible, stupid, and crazy.” (After much discussion, they decided to retain the three Alisons, preferring to err on the side of ambition.)
And it worked. It even worked as the venues grew from an 80-seat theater inside New York's Public Theater to a 299-seat theater and then on to Broadway. As the show prepares to make its West Coast debut, where it will likely accrue virtually no controversy, it's worth observing that that's not always the case: When the College of Charleston (South Carolina) assigned the graphic novel to incoming freshmen, protests ensued.
“This couldn't have happened 10 years ago,” Bechdel said, referring to the musical. “The world wasn't ready for a queer story.”
Tesori, who also scored Tony Kushner's Caroline, or Change, called it a “most meaningful project,” noting in a widely applauded line that there are “so few things written by women for women on the dramatic stage.” And she related how, when someone told her (by way of praise) that the show was “sweet,” she almost wanted to use the F-word. “There is this need to put women's work inside a quilt,” Tesori said.
As but a taste of what the Bay Area is destined to get, two dozen students from the Oakland School for the Arts —having had only 24 hours to prepare — wrapped up the evening with a performance of “Ring of Keys,” a song taken from a panel in Fun Home where the young Alison encounters a butch woman for the first time, in a diner.
The panel reads, “But like a traveler in a foreign country who runs into someone from home — someone they've never spoken to, but know by sight — I recognized her with a surge of joy.”
Writing it in was an anxious moment, Tesori said.
“It was going to be complicated to explain butchness,” she said. “I was afraid that if this girl's song abut a butch woman” generated laughter from the audience, then “I couldn't bear it.”
Quite the contrary.
Fun Home, opens at the Curran Theater, Jan. 25, 2017.