As the first show in Fuse Productions’ 2017-18 Mainstage Season, “Fun Home,” the 2015 Tony Award winner for best musical, will be presented Sept. 21 through Sept. 23 at Schwab Auditorium.
The cast of local and New York City-based actors will include Shani Hadjian as Alison, Mike Waldhier as Bruce, Penn State theater student Clara Hanahan as Medium Alison, Actors’ Equity Association member Nicole Johndrow as Helen and Anna Marcovitch as Young Alison.
The production will be directed and music directed by Fuse Productions Producing Artistic Director Richard Biever, with choreography by Jill Brighton, sets by Michael Benson, costumes by Megan Woods, lighting by Tyler Sperrazza and sound design by Michael Blake.
“ ‘Fun Home’ is a musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel of the same name,” Biever said. “The book is her attempt to work through the issues surrounding her father’s death in 1980. It’s also a ‘coming of age’ story, where the protagonist is a lesbian — a first for a musical.”
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The show also has a local connection — it takes place in Beech Creek, where Bechdel grew up. The show moves between past and present, as 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.
Biever saw “Fun Home” on Broadway in 2015 and said he was floored by its beauty.
“It is one of the very finest shows to open in the last 20 years on Broadway,” he said. “I wanted to produce it soon, but never imagined it would be this soon. We feel very fortunate to have received the rights to do the show.”
“Fun Home” played Off-Broadway at The Public Theatre for five months before running on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre from April 2015 to September 2016. It won five Tony Awards in 2015, and the cast album was given a Grammy nomination in 2016.
Waldhier plays Bruce Bechdel, the father of the family, an English teacher and director of the Bechdel Funeral Home — or “Fun Home” for short.
“What we see of him is based on Alison’s memories, so we learn a lot about their relationship and the impact he had on her as a child and teen,” he said. “Without giving too much away, it’s definitely a complicated relationship.”
Biever believes “Fun Home” is particularly unique because of its many themes: LGBTQ issues, parenting, family dynamics, identity and suicide, to name a few.
“The events are true and took place very near State College,” he said. “There are many people around who knew the Bechdel family.”
For Waldhier, getting to know his character and his motivations is the most important first step in preparing for a role.
“It’s especially critical when the character is based on a real person — you want to honor them as much as possible,” he said. “Unfortunately, in Bruce’s case, there isn’t much out there beyond Alison Bechdel’s book and what is found in the script. I got extremely lucky though — a friend of mine was actually a student of his and I was able to learn a lot from her that both supports and enhances what is on the page.”
Throughout the rehearsal process, Waldhier said he’s been amazed at how real and relatable so many of the small moments he sees in the show are, even against the unfamiliar backdrop of the Fun Home and the events that take place throughout.
“I think that’s a rare thing, especially in musicals, where the focus is often on spectacle, and transporting us somewhere fantastic and new,” he said. “I think the show, and the book it is based on, is really a message about the important relationship between a father and daughter, and the impact that relationship has on someone as they discover themselves and their place in the world.”
“For me, the message of the show is that it’s always better to live your truth than to keep the truth hidden,” Biever said. “Hiding the truth only brings suffering.”
Biever thinks audiences will experience lives being lived, for better or worse, and will be very moved by this show.
“The show is a powerful meditation on the family and it will hit emotional buttons for everyone in the audience,” Biever said. “The show is especially meaningful to those in the LGBTQ community.”
“I think everyone in the audience will find a scene or two in the play that reminds them of a moment or memory from their own childhood — something perhaps that they’ve forgotten,” Waldhier said. “That reawakening can be powerful, and, I hope, positive for everyone who experiences it.”
Other shows on tap for Fuse’s new season are “Merrily We Roll Along,” Feb. 22-24 and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” running June 21-23.
IF YOU GO
- What: Fuse Productions’ “Fun Home”
- When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21-23
- Where: Schwab Auditorium, University Park
- Info: fuseproductions.org