‘Fun Home’ proving to be the right show at the right time

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The national touring production of “Fun Home.” | YOUTUBE

NEW YORK (AP) — Some of Broadway’s biggest musical hits are on the road this season, like “Matilda,” “The Book of Mormon” and “Jersey Boys.” Then there’s one show that few initially thought would thrive off-Broadway much less go on a national tour.

“Fun Home,” the 2015 Tony-winning best musical, has begun its America journey as the first Broadway show with a lesbian protagonist, one who is dealing with a parent’s suicide and her own sexuality. It’s also joyous, loving and poignant enough to bring red and blue staters alike to tears. The show arrives in Chicago next week, for a run at the Oriental Theatre Nov. 2-13.

‘FUN HOME’ When: Nov. 2-13 Where: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph Info: broadwayinchicago.com

“It’s mind-blowing to think we get to take this all across the country. Every step of the way with ‘Fun Home’ it’s felt like, ‘It’s so risky. It’s so new. It’s pushing boundaries,’” said director Sam Gold. “What we keep finding at every step of the way is that the show has something so true and deep and emotional at its core that everyone opens up to it.”

The musical — with a book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori — is based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir about growing up with a closeted dad in the family’s funeral home business, nicknamed the “Fun Home.” It travels the country at a time when society’s view of homosexuality is changing. It was on Broadway when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was constitutional, and it was also playing during the outpouring of sympathy following the Orlando, Florida, gay nightclub shooting.

Kate Shindle and Robert Petkoff in the national touring production of “Fun Home. | JOAN MARCUS PHOTO

Kate Shindle and Robert Petkoff in the national touring production of “Fun Home. | JOAN MARCUS PHOTO

“As this show goes out across America, I think there are communities who are starving for this story and there are communities that don’t know they need to hear this story,” said Robert Petkoff, who plays the father.

Kron, who made history as part of the first female writing team to win Tony Awards for best book, score and musical, said the show explores a particular family but has universal themes of love and acceptance.

“I feel like there’s been a lot of anxiety that other people are going to have a hard time,” she said. “And, undoubtedly, here and there, there have been individuals who have had a hard time, as there are with anything that you put onstage, but this has just not been an issue.”

The cast and creative team behind “Fun Home” have embraced their outsized role. They assembled for a one-night benefit concert version this summer in Orlando to honor victims of the massacre. And three years ago, they visited the College of Charleston in South Carolina after lawmakers withdrew funding as punishment for making Bechdel’s book available to incoming freshmen.

“The cultural moment right now in this country really has me excited about taking this show out on a tour,” said Kate Shindle, who plays the adult Alison. “During auditions you mostly focus on the material on the page, but I just couldn’t turn off the activist part of my brain.”

The cast and creators are quick to point out that the story is paramount and “Fun Home” is not overtly political, even if, by its very nature, a show about growing up gay — including a song about lesbian sexual desire, “Ring of Keys” — is a charged topic for some.

“You don’t need to be involved in its politics to be moved by the show and that’s very important. It’s a very universal show and it captures something bigger than its politics. That’s what makes it work. I’m not interested in polemical theater,” said Gold. “I’m interested in moving people.”

The tour will have some emotional stops for some in the cast. Kron is looking forward to it playing the Fisher Theatre in Detroit, where she saw her first professional show as a teen. Playing Chicago’s Oriental Theatre will be a homecoming for Petkoff. Pretty much everyone can’t wait for the show to reopen the Curran Theatre in San Francisco.

For Shindle, the tour will be her second job; she’s also the president of the 50,000-strong Actors’ Equity Association. “It’s good for Equity when the president is working,” she said, laughing.


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