Controversy Inspires Original Cast and Creators of Fun Home to Stage Concert Production at College of Charleston

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17 Apr 2014

Beth Malone, Sydney Lucas and Alexandra Socha
Beth Malone, Sydney Lucas and Alexandra Socha
Photo by Joan Marcus

The original cast and creative team of Fun Home, a 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist based on the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, will reunite for two special concert stagings at the College of Charleston next week after South Carolina lawmakers attempted to withdraw funding from the school for including the source material in its curriculum.

In February South Carolina lawmakers including conservative State Representative Garry Smith, approved a 2014-15 budget that will cut $52,000 from the College of Charleston after the school assigned Bechdel's acclaimed 2006 graphic memoir as part of its summer reading curriculum.

Smith took issue with LGBT content in the book, which deals with Bechdel's coming of age as a lesbian and the suicide of her closeted gay father. "I understand diversity and academic freedom," Smith told the Associated Press at the time. "This is purely promotion of a lifestyle with no academic debate." He also tweeted that the book could be "considered pornography."

In the same budget proposal, lawmakers also sought to cut $17,142 from the budget of University of South Carolina Upstate after that school assigned "Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio." The cuts reflect the amount each university spent on the book programs. The Senate has yet to vote on the measure.

According to college representatives, students were not forced to read the books and had the option to switch courses.



Following heated debate of the book's inclusion in the curriculum, Bechdel was invited to speak at the College of Charleston last fall. "I still don’t grasp exactly what it is that these state legislators find so objectionable about the book. (Do they hate cartoons?)," Bechdel said in an email to Playbill.com. "But there is something particularly obscene and perverse about their act of censorship given that 'Fun Home' is about the human cost of sexual shame and secrecy."

She continued, "I had a great visit to the campus last fall, but definitely picked up on the conservative atmosphere. People were very polite, but I got a smaller crowd than I'm accustomed to. The small group of out gay students was really psyched I was there, and shared some pretty moving stories about their own lives."

Those students have even more to be psyched about: The original Off-Broadway cast, along with members of the creative team, will travel to Charleston next week to present two concerts of the Jeanine Tesori-Lisa Kron stage musical adaptation of Fun Home April 21.

According to the Post and Courier, the school originally sought to produce a student production of Fun Home this fall; however, rights were unavailable due to a potential Broadway run. An official announcement of a Broadway production has not been made.

When asked by Playbill.com about a potential Broadway run, producer Kristin Caskey of Fox Theatricals stated: "We're working to make it happen, we want it to happen, but nothing is set yet."

The performances, which are set for 7 PM and 9 PM at the Memminger Auditorium, are sponsored in part by the Sam and Regina Greene Fund at the Coastal Community Foundation. No state funds are being used.

Over 500 tickets have already been sold since the show went on sale April 15. 

Scheduled to perform April 21 are original cast members Beth Malone (Alison), Sydney Lucas (Small Alison) and cast addition Emily Skeggs (Medium Alison), who inhabit author-narrator Bechdel at various stages of her life; as well as Tony Award winner Michael Cerveris as novelist Alison Bechdel's father, Bruce Bechdel, and Tony nominee Judy Kuhn as her mother, Helen Bechdel. Completing the cast are Griffin Birney (Christian Bechdel), Roberta Colindrez (Joan), Noah Hinsdale (John Bechdel) and Joel Perez (Roy).

Author Bechdel will join the show's creators, Tesori (music), Kron (book and lyrics) and Chris Fenwick (musical director), all of whom will be part of the event. The New York production was directed by Sam Gold.

Reached for comment via email, Tony Award nominee Kuhn stated: "I am always thrilled to reunite with my Fun Home family. There is something very unique about this piece and being a part of the the creation of it will always be one of the highlights of my career, as was working with this particular group of people. One of the reasons I loved being a part of Fun Home is that the piece and the story it tells is very important and needs to be told right now. I think what is happening in S.C. attests to that. I am thrilled to be able to share it with this community and give them our support."

In a statement to the press, Todd McNerney, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, described the event as “an incredible academic opportunity for our students and the chance for our community to see Broadway and Off-Broadway stars sing inventive and complex works from a popular musical fresh from the New York stage." He continued, "With Kron, Tesori, Bechdel and musical director Chris Fenwick in attendance, our students will have the added bonus of interaction with major theatrical and writing professionals."

Critics praised the musical adaptation of Fun Home, which premiered at the Public Theater last fall and played an extended engagement. It was recently nominated for 9 Lucille Lortel nominations and was also a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A cast album is now available.

Read Playbill.com's feature: "An Author's Life Comes to Life: Alison Bechdel on Fun Home."

Fun Home is described as "a fresh, daring new musical based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. When her father dies unexpectedly, graphic novelist Alison dives deep into her past to tell the story of the volatile, brilliant, one-of-a-kind man whose temperament and secrets defined her family and her life. Moving between past and present, Alison relives her unique childhood playing at the family’s Bechdel Funeral Home, her growing understanding of her own sexuality and the looming, unanswerable questions about her father's hidden desires."

Tickets to the concert are $15. Click here to purchase.

To learn more about arts programs at colleges and universities across the country, including College of Charleston, visit PlaybillEDU.com.

View highlights from the New York production below: