2015 Best Musical Tony® Winner Fun Home Is Drawn from Life: Cartoonist and Graphic Novelist Alison Bechdel’s Life

Robert Petkoff and Kate Shindle star as Bruce and Alison Bechdel (photo by Joan Marcus)
Robert Petkoff and Kate Shindle star as Bruce and Alison Bechdel (photo by Joan Marcus)
Robert Petkoff and Kate Shindle star as Bruce and Alison Bechdel (photo by Joan Marcus)
Robert Petkoff and Kate Shindle star as Bruce and Alison Bechdel (photo by Joan Marcus)

2015 Best Musical Tony Award® winner Fun Home, which opens tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Durham Performing Arts Center and runs through Sunday, is Drawn from Life: Beech Creek, PA-born lesbian cartoonist and graphic novelist Alison Bechdel’s life growing up in Clinton County, Pennsylvania, with a father who was a third-generation mortician, taught high-school English, and restored old houses. His sudden death on July 2, 1980, after being hit by a truck, was a shock not only to the family but to the entire community. The 2013 Off-Broadway and 2015 Broadway musical, which is based on Bechdel’s autobiographical 2006 graphic novel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, features music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics and book by Lisa Kron.

Set in the present day, with flashbacks to the 1970s, Fun Home is a coming-of-age and coming-out story that unfolds in the Bechdel family home, their family-owned funeral parlor, and Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH. Samuel French Inc. briefly summarizes the plot as follows: “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. Fun Home is a refreshingly honest, wholly original musical about seeing your parents through grown-up eyes.”

This offbeat musical — which will be performed without an intermission and will employ three different actresses to portray Alison Bechdel as 43-year-old grownup Alison, as a 10-year-old child (Small Alison), and as a 19-year-old teenager (Middle Alison) — had its Off-Broadway premiere, directed by Sam Gold and choreographed by Danny Mefford, on Sept. 30, 2013 at The Public Theater, where it ran through Jan. 12, 2014 and won the 2014 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical, the 2013-14 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical, the 2013-14 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical, and the 2014 Off Broadway Alliance Award for Best New Musical, plus two 2014 OBIE Awards. Fun Home was also a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Fun Home made its Broadway debut, also directed by Sam Gold and choreographed by Danny Mefford, on April 19, 2015 at the Circle in the Square Theatre, where it racked up 583 performances before closing on Sept. 10, 2016. The show earned twelve 2015 Tony nominations, and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical (Lisa Kron), Best Original Score Written for the Theatre (Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron), Best Direction of a Musical (Sam Gold), and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical (Michael Cerveris, who played Bruce Bechdel).

Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron were the first all-female team to take home the Tony Award for Best Score. Linda Winer of Newsday called them “A collaboration to cherish!” and added “Lisa Kron knows precisely how to mix the demands of a musical and the brilliance of Bechdel’s memoir. Jeanine Tesori finds just the right voices.” Ben Brantley of The New York Times made Fun Home an “NYT Critics’ Pick” and raved “A beautiful heartbreaker of a musical … Fun Home finds a shining clarity that lights up the night!” In BroadwayWorld.com, Michael Dale wrote, “I can’t name another [musical] that deals in this kind of subject matter and successfully presents it in such a non-traditional form…. Fun Home demands to be seen by anyone who takes musical theatre seriously.”

Robert Petkoff and Alessandra Baldacchino star as Bruce and Small Alison (photo by Joan Marcus)
Robert Petkoff and Alessandra Baldacchino star as Bruce and Small Alison (photo by Joan Marcus)

The show’s First National Tour, which is also directed by Sam Gold and choreographed by Danny Mefford, commenced on Oct. 2, 2016 in Cleveland, OH. It stars Robert Petkoff as Bruce Bechdel, Susan Moniz as his wife Helen, Kate Shindle as 43-year-old Alison, Alessandra Baldacchino as 10-year-old Small Alison, Carly Gold as Small Alison at certain performances, Abby Corrigan as the 19-year-old Middle Alison, Karen Eilbacher as Middle Alison’s college friend and lover Joan, Robert Hager as Roy/Mark/Pete/Bobby Jeremy, and Lennon Nate Hammond and Pierson Salvador as Alison’s brothers John and Christian. In addition to director Sam Gold and choreographer Danny Mefford, the tour’s creative team includes scenic and costume designer David Zinn, lighting designer Ben Stanton, sound designer Kai Harada, and musical supervisor Chris Fenwick.

Fun Home is about a woman who is looking back at memories of her family — in particular, memories of her father — in an attempt to get unstuck in her own personal and professional life,” says 53-year-old Sacramento, CA-born actor Robert Petkoff, who plays Alison Bechdel’s father, Bruce, whose sudden death — and whether it was a suicide — and subsequent revelations about his secret life as a homosexual who preyed on underage boys rocked the Bechdel family for decades to come. Petkoff adds, “[Alison Bechdel’s] relationship with her family, and particularly with her father, was [always] very complex. In looking back at these memories and going beyond the family mythology, [Alison] discovers things about herself and her father that help her move forward….

“What’s great about Fun Home is that we get to see Alison at three [different] stages in her life,” says Petkoff. He adds, “We get to see her, at different ages, in interaction with her father, and discovering her own identity.”

Broadway veteran Robert Petkoff, who most recently played U.S. Sen. Hubert Humphrey, D-MN, opposite Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as President Lyndon Baines Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s All The Way (2014), cautions DPAC patrons to remember: “I’m playing Alison Bechdel’s version of her father. He might see himself differently, and the people who knew him might see him differently…. There’s a responsibility, when you’re playing someone who’s real, not to mess it up….” But, Petkoff says, “It’s very important for an actor, playing a part like this, to be that person, warts and all.”

Robert Petkoff, who earned a degree in theater from Illinois State University in Normal, IL, says, “I keep looking at the graphic novel that [Alison Bechdel] drew, because she expresses who Bruce Bechdel is there…. He is a man who is living a life that seems ideal on the surface. But below the surface, he’s got some secrets….

“This is a role that’s very layered, and you can’t get the role on Day One,” claims Robert Petkoff. “[Bruce Bechdel] is a very complex human being, not a caricature…. [All the people in this play] are not comic-book characters. They’re very real, three-dimensional people.”

Theater helps you get under other people’s skins, says Robert Petkoff, and walk out of the theater with a deeper and broader understanding of people different than you.

Petkoff notes, “Fun Home certainly has its humorous moments. There are definitely musical numbers that are fun. There are some very light moments in it, and it’s a tragedy…. But you come out the other side, at the end of this play, really moved.”

Karen Eilbacher (left) and Abby Corrigan star as Joan and Middle Alison (photo by Joan Marcus)
Karen Eilbacher (left) and Abby Corrigan star as Joan and Middle Alison (photo by Joan Marcus)

SECOND OPINION: Oct. 20th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/fun-home-tony-award-winning-musical-coming-to-dpac/article_fdf1f5c6-9648-11e6-b61f-1bda6619041b.html (Note: You must subscribe to read this article); Oct. 19th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/fun-home/Event?oid=4995523; Oct. 19th Burlington, NC Times-News preview by Anna Katherine Carey for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/fun-home-is-a-story-that-needs-to-be-told/; Oct. 12th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh video interview with Susan Moniz, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-Susan-Moniz-of-FUN-HOME-National-Tour-20161012; and Oct. 2nd New York, NY Playbill.com preview by Adam Hetrick: http://www.playbill.com/article/tony-winning-musical-fun-home-begins-us-tour.

The Durham Performing Arts Center presents FUN HOME at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25-27, 8 p.m. Oct. 28, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 29, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 30 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, NC 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.

TICKETS: $35-$160 (including fees). Click here for DPAC Special Offers.


DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), tickets@dpacnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/where-to-buy.

Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/2212134.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.

SHOW: http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/fun-home and https://www.facebook.com/events/1600951083569067/.

VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://funhomebroadway.com/#about.

THE TOUR: http://funhomebroadway.com/ and https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/fun-home–501161.

TOUR CAST/CREATIVE TEAM: http://funhomebroadway.com/cast.php.

DPAC NEWS RELEASE: http://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/tickets-go-on-sale-july-16-for-fun-home.

DPAC‘S 2016-17 SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2016-17.

PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/directions.

PARKING: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/parking.

NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29th, performance.


Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006 graphic novel): http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/fun-home-2 (author’s web page), http://www.hmhco.com/shop/books/Fun-Home/9780618871711 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fun_Home (Wikipedia).

Alison Bechdel (Beech Creek, PA-born cartoonist and graphic novelist): http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/ (official website), http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/blog (her blog), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/alison-bechdel-497808 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alison_Bechdel (Wikipedia).

Fun Home (2013 Off-Broadway and 2015 Broadway musical): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/58581/fun-home (Samuel French Inc.), http://www.lisakron.org/Lisa-Kron-theWorkOf-FunHome.html (Lisa Kron’s web page), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/5563 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/fun-home-497806 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/funhomemusical/ (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/funhomemusical (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fun_Home_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).

Jeanine Tesori (music): http://www.masterworksbroadway.com/artist/jeanine-tesori/ (Official Masterworks Broadway Site), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/4259 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/jeanine-tesori-12488 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1507221/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanine_Tesori (Wikipedia).

Lisa Kron (lyrics and book): http://www.lisakron.org/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/2906 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/lisa-kron-406666 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1207088/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisa_Kron (Wikipedia).

Robert Petkoff (actor who plays Bruce Bechdel): http://robertpetkoff.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/4055 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/robert-petkoff-76390 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0677680/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/rpetkoff (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/petkoff (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Petkoff (Wikipedia).


Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing robertm748@aol.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail robertm748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).