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Sep 20, 2017

Based on a graphic memoir, ‘Fun Home’ is a surprising Broadway success

Greenville Journal

SEP 20, 2017 | CINDY LANDRUM

At first, Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” doesn’t exactly seem like ideal source material for a hit Broadway musical. The graphic memoir is an often-sober exploration of Bechdel’s identity as a lesbian and complicated relationship with her father, a closeted gay man who may have died by suicide.

But, then again, a story about a butcher who kills people and bakes them into pies didn’t appear to be set up for success either, said Kate Shindle, a former Miss America who is playing the lead role in the national tour of “Fun Home,” the winner of the 2015 Tony Award for best musical. “Fun Home” opens on Sept. 26 at the Peace Center for eight performances.

“It’s not what most people would think of as source material that would make good sense as a musical,” she said. “But with the care and craftsmanship of the creatives, ‘Fun Home’ is terrifically successful on the page as well as the stage.”

While “Fun Home” is the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist and the first show written exclusively by women — Jeanine Tesori wrote the music, while Lisa Kron handled the book and lyrics — to win a Tony for best musical, the show resonates with all audience members, Shindle said.

“It’s about a family that seems perfect from the outside but, on the inside, has a number of things they don’t talk about but should be talking about,” she said.

And its timing is perfect, Shindle said. “It’s an important show,” she said.

“We’re at a moment in our cultural history as Americans when we’re starting to question why individuals aren’t allowed to live their own identities. People should be able to be who they are.”

It’s a message that is resonating in large cities such as New York and Dallas (the city in which the tour was in when Shindle took time for a telephone interview with the Greenville Journal last week) but also in smaller cities as well.

“When I was first cast in the show, I had friends asking me how well I thought this was going to tour,” Shindle said. “But the show sold out in Durham, [N.C.], which was our second stop.”

She adds, “I think no matter the size of the city, there are always people interested in good theater. ‘Fun Home’ is a great show. It’s a piece of theater for people who love theater and who love what theater can do and what it can teach us.”

Shindle played Sally Bowles in the national tour of “Cabaret” and had Broadway stints as Lucy in “Jekyll & Hyde,” the Mad Hatter in “Wonderland,” and Vivienne Kensington in “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” She said “Fun Home” is a good show for people who like musicals and want to see what the next generation of musicals will look like.

Shindle is president of the national union Actor’s Equity and mentioned the Peace Center and the arts’ role in the revitalization of downtown Greenville in a speech in March about possible funding cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts.

According Shindle, “Fun Home” has a more singer-songwriter vibe to the music than more traditional musicals.

“People who love plays will like it because the book scenes are very important and are not just there to fill space between songs,” she said. “There’s an inherent drama in Alison’s search for the truth.”

“Fun Home”
Sept. 26-28 at 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 29 and 30 at 8 p.m.; Sept. 30 at 2 p.m.; and Oct. 1 at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Peace Center
$25 to $85
peacecenter.org