A strong female protagonist, realistic scenes with flawed characters and complicated family dynamics have made Fun Home relatable for different audiences.
The U.S. tour of the musical, the 2015 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, will visit ASU Gammage from Tues. through Sun., Sept. 5 to 10.
Adapted by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori from a graphic memoir by German cartoonist Alison Bechdel, Fun Home follows main character Alison from childhood to adulthood and delves into her complicated relationship with her father.
The focus on a lesbian protagonist makes the show distinctive in the theater world. Only a few other Broadway musicals, including Falsettos, The Color Purple, Rent, Chicago, Legally Blonde and Hairspray, have had lesbian characters.
In the show, Kate Shindle pays the adult version of Alison; Abby Corrigan, Medium Alison and Carly Gold and Jadyn Schwartz, Small Alison.
Directed by Sam Gold, the musical also features Robert Petkoff as Alison’s father Bruce, Susan Moniz as Alison’s mother Helen, Victoria Janicki as Alison’s college girlfriend Joan, Henry Boshart as Alison’s brother John and Luke Barbato Smith as Alison’s brother Christian.
Robert Hager plays multiple roles in the show, including Roy, one of Bruce’s English students and a babysitter for the Bechdel children.
Fun Home is the first national tour for singer, dancer and actress Abby Corrigan. In local theater productions in North Carolina, she played roles such as the Emcee in Cabaret, Daniela in In the Heights, Cassie in A Chorus Line, Fiona in Shrek The Musical and Natalie in Next to Normal.
Corrigan has also appeared in TV and film, including Showtime’s Homeland.
Corrigan talked about being part of the cast of Fun Home during a recent telephone interview.
Question: What has it been like for you to play a character who is so groundbreaking?
Answer: It’s been a real joy to play Alison. It’s really change my life, and I am honored to play such a smart human being and such a life-changing human being for so many people who are closeted and so many people who have issues that now feel like they are able to face them because she was brave enough to tell her story.
Question: What is it like playing a character where you play only a part of her life, and other actresses pick up other parts of it?
Answer: As somebody lays out the facts for you and gives you who you were and who you are going to be, it gives you a lot of information for the kind of person you are going to portray…Those two [other actresses] really help with keeping the character well-rounded.
Question: Have you and other actresses worked together to develop the character fully?
Answer: I think that’s the cool part. You get to see her grow up. That can be helpful just for me as an actor, but for me as Alison, I try not to pay too much attention because she doesn’t know what she’s going to be, and she has her own ideas of who she was….Just as long as three of us are honestly playing what we’re feeling, and we’re believing the story that we’re telling, then it works.
Question: During the rehearsal process, did the three of you work closely to make sure the character is cohesive throughout the show?
Answer: Not really actually. I guess we kind of picked up some things, just little things, but everybody is different at different times in their life…I think that because we were directed in such a beautiful way and encouraged to stay extremely honest, the people believe that we are the same person…The three of us are trying to be as honest as we possibly can. I think that’s why it’s believable, not because we’ve been trying to emulate each other’s performances.
Question: Are there little things that all three actresses do, such as certain mannerisms which carry throughout the show?
Answer: We all put our hands in our pockets, but I think that’s about it. We’re in such severely different stages of Alison’s life that it’s hard to try to be the same…Alison is shy, smart and awkward for all of us, but she’s strong too.
Question: I’ve heard you play Alison when she’s coming to the realization of who she is, at the point where she comes out.
Answer: I think she’s mostly very scared about it, but I think it’s very invigorating and such a huge release for her to be able to accept herself…She was really able to take a stance and say that’s who she was. That’s only one out of many reasons that makes her brave.
Question: What do you try to bring to the character that’s different or your own?
Answer: I really just try to bring myself…The show was written in such a human way and such a conversational way that Sam [Gold] always encourages us to not try to be somebody…I try my best to make sure everything is happening to me right then, so it doesn’t feel like it’s just storytelling. It feels more like the events are happening immediately…I really try to bring myself as much as I can into her.
Question: I know you’ve played different characters in the past. Is this character more similar to you than they were?
Answer: You could say that, but I think you have to find a piece of yourself in every single character that you play. So, I would say that every character before then has been just like me as well as they are nothing like me.
Question: Do you play Alison during a time in her life when she is a darker character?
Answer: It’s not dark per se. Every body’s haunted by demons in this show, their own inner issues. Part of the show is very happy-go-lucky, but there’s also a darkness underneath it, a fear because fear drives so many people to do things…There’s things that follow these characters, like decisions and thoughts follow you in life.
Question: This show seems similar in some ways to Next to Normal, which I know you played in.
Answer: I loved doing that show. I think that show is kind of similar to this one. Not to knock Next to Normal because it’s probably one of my favorite musicals, but I think you can pull quotes out of that show. With Fun Home, we’re just speaking like regular people. We’re saying having normal conversations, but because of the weight of the show itself and because you know what’s going to happen at the end from the beginning, I think [that] gives it that weight.
Question: What was it about the first time you saw Fun Home that made you want to be a part of the show?
Answer: It is a musical, but it reflects human life. I love musicals. I’ve grown up listening to musicals, but this show has such a human quality to it that people who don’t like musicals like this musical. It’s because it’s so well written…When I saw it, I was like, “Oh my God. This acting is just unbelievable…” They weren’t trying to be in a musical. They just happened to be onstage, but they were living life, and what’s what I wanted to do.
Question: It sounds like the songs don’t fit the big splashy musical format.
Answer: There’s only one number that comes close to that. It’s a dream sequence that Alison has when she’s trying to ignore her parents yelling. She’s imagining this family that’s perfect….Then, it completely vanishes and goes back to the story. There’s not really huge production numbers. It’s happy, sad, funny and scary sometimes. That’s what life is, and what’s why people should see it. No matter if you’re gay or not, if you’ve been in a family, that’s what this show is about.
Question: I’ve heard the major relationship explored in the show is between Alison and her father.
Answer: It’s her relationship with her father mostly, but it’s a lot about family issues as well and sexual awakening and finding yourself.
Question: How do you feel like the relationship between Alice and Bruce evolves throughout the show?
Answer: It’s very choppy and out of order, so it’s not really evolved per se. You just see him at different stages of Alison’s life. My story is the only one that’s chronological. From Big Alison’s perspective, she’s going back and trying to work out what it was she missed…For me, I guess it’s like we’re buddies. She finds out her father’s gay, and it’s like within that moment, she missed everything…She and her dad had a special connection, and I feel like she feels that but also doesn’t at all in that moment.
Question: Is her father being gay a big reveal in the show?
Answer: You find out that he’s gay at the beginning of the show. I think that’s why the show is so poignant. He kills himself at the beginning of the show…You know what’s going to happen until the end of the show, and yet you still don’t think it’s going to happen.
Question: It sounds like the show delves into some serious topics from the beginning.
Answer: It’s very serious, but it’s also really really funny. It’s like how life can be very funny. There’s really sweet moments too.
Question: What’s it been like for you being on your first national tour?
Answer: It’s been great. I’ve always had a fear of being away from home, so that was kind of hard at first. Getting to see America I think is really cool. I think you learn how much environment can affect you, and you learn a lot about yourself.
Question: Is life on the road different from what you imagined?
Answer: Totally different. I think everybody thinks that Broadway and touring is some flashy life, but it’s really not. We are just people trying to do our best. I remember when tours would come through to Charlotte, where I’m from. I would be the one at the stage door…We’re people too, and we’ve just doing our job. It’s not as flashy as everyone imagines it, but it’s the best thing ever.
Question: I heard growing up in Charlotte, you started doing theater at 10 years old.
Answer: Probably younger. Probably like 5 or 6. My parents are in the business, so I’ve been doing theater for a while. They tried to put me in sports. They didn’t really want me to be an actor, but that’s what I was.
Question: What types of roles were you playing back then?
Answer: It was just summer camps and stuff. I loved going to class, and my favorite class was improv. I was always making up different characters to play in improv.
Question: Have you noticed growth in yourself as an actress from playing Medium Alison?
Answer: Whenever I look back at stuff I did before, I’m like, “That’s crap.” I feel like that’s how every actor is when they look back at something they did…You never master this craft…You’re always going to keep getting better, as long as you work hard…Being away from your parents for the first time, you learn so much about yourself, what you need and what you need to work on. Sometimes, it’s hard to face, and I think this show has helped with that too…But I definitely see myself as a different actor than I was. I see myself almost going in a new direction.
Question: Do you mean with the types of shows you are going to do in the future? Or the types of roles?
Answer: I always knew I wanted to perform, but I guess I’m just seeing it in a different way. I just never want to limit myself. I also want to audition for things that inspire me. Shows like this are really special, but I definitely want to play anything I can…I don’t want to limit myself to awkward teenager or angsty drug addict. I want to do everything, even men.
Question: With Fun Home, have you had to bring any new skills or learn anything new?
Answer: I actually was an art major at my school as well as a musical theater major when I was younger. I’ve always loved to draw and paint…I just got a little more serious about it in order to find [Alison]…For her just in general, I drew a lot, and I wrote a lot, and I started a diary like she did…I never really had a diary because I always hate everything that I write. It’s taken everything that I have in order to keep one, but I think it’s important to know her in that way.
Question: What else do you feel I should know about the show?
Answer: I guess to stress that it’s not this dark show. It is dark, but it’s also very heartfelt. It can be uncomfortable to sit through sometimes, but it’s also very funny…I think that Fun Home is a beautiful piece because it mirrors thoughts and questions that we have almost every single day, but no one talks about them.
Fun Home U.S. Tour
Tuesday-Sunday, Sept. 5 to 10
1200 S. Forest Ave., Tempe
Tickets start at $20