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“Fun Home,” based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir of the same name, was nominated for 12 Tony awards and took home five, including best musical and best original score. The book was written by Lansing native Lisa Kron.
“We expected to get some nominations; we didn’t expect to get 12,” Kron said. “It was beyond exciting.”
The Wharton Center staff added “Fun Home” its Broadway slate before the Tony nominations were announced.
“When it became available, we took one look at it and said, ‘We have to have this. How can we not honor Lisa?’” said Diane Willcox, Wharton Center director of marketing and communications.
While Kron had written plays before, “Fun Home” was her first foray into musical theater. To write the music, she recruited Jeanine Tesori, an accomplished theater and film composer whose score for Broadway’s “Shrek The Musical” was nominated for a Tony.
“I had an intuitive sense that it was a good choice for [a musical],” Kron said. “Luckily, Jeanine Tesori agreed to work on it with me.”
The duo worked on "Fun Home" for seven years, but even then they were not sure if the show would be well received.
“We were hopeful, but you really never know until it meets an audience,” she said. “When it started meeting audiences, that’s when we saw that it was doing what we hoped it would do.”
Kron grew up on Lansing’s west side and studied theater at Kalamazoo College. She moved to New York in 1984, where she lives with her wife, playwright Madeleine George. She is looking forward to bringing “Fun Home” to East Lansing.
“It’s so exciting,” she said. “A lot of people from here have come to New York to see the show, which has really meant a lot to me. I still feel very connected to this place.”
The duo of Kron and Tesori is the first all-female writing team to win the Tony for best original score. While Kron is thankful for the honor, she is also disappointed that it took this long.
“The arts world, in general, is thought of as being progressive, but across the board, it has not been progressive in issues of gender parity,” she said. “There’s really no good excuse for it. It’s institutionalized bias.”
But she does see things changing.
“I feel more hopeful than I ever have,” she said. “Consciousness has been raised around it. Certain theaters have gone from very low numbers of women writers being produced to complete parity within two seasons.”
“Fun Home” opened in 2013 at New York’s Public Theater, a traditional theater setup. It moved to Broadway in 2015, taking up residence at the Circle in the Square Theatre, which is an 800- seat, theater-in-the-round venue. The touring production is a scaled-up version, adapted for venues like Wharton Center’s 2,400-seat Cobb Great Hall. Kron is not worried about making the transition.
“When we were making it, we never thought it would be in the round,” Kron said. “Sam Gold, our director, is really extraordinary at creating intimacy between an audience and a production.”
The play focuses on Alison’s coming of age and her acceptance of her homosexuality. Alison’s father is a closeted gay man who dies — possibly by suicide — shortly after Alison comes out to him. This family dynamic, Kron said, is the musical’s emotional core.
“Every musical needs to be driven by a primal human desire,” she said. “In the first lines of ‘Fun Home,’ this girl sings ‘Hey daddy, come here. I need you.’ That desire, to be connected to her parents, that is what drives the show.”