"Fun Home" is a musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel's 2006 graphic memoir "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic." The book, which won various prizes and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, was named a "best" or "notable" book by numerous publications.
It generated controversy, too, especially in Charleston.
The memoir recounts Bechdel's childhood and young adult family experiences, focusing on her relationship with her father, a closeted gay man.
Selected by the College of Charleston as its 2013-14 recommended reading for students, faculty and staff, the decision caused a political backlash. Some officials objected to what they called pornography and the S.C. House budget-writing committee sought to penalize the college by withdrawing $52,000, the amount of state funding associated with The College Reads! program.
The censorship controversy prompted a forceful response from college students, faculty and administrators, including then-President George Benson, and it provided the impetus for the Off-Broadway cast of the musical "Fun Home," accompanied by its writers and Bechdel herself, to assemble in Charleston for a concert version of the show. Two performances quickly were sold out.
Now the unusual musical production will join company on Broadway with "The Last Ship," featuring music by Sting; "Honeymoon in Vegas," an adaptation of the 1992 film; and "An American in Paris," a staged version of the 1951 Gene Kelly movie, according to The New York Times.
Bechdel, who was surprised by the accusations of pornography in South Carolina, calling the controversy "sad and absurd," has said she is amazed at the quality of the stage adaptation and talent of the cast. Already in April, when she was in Charleston for the concert performance, there was talk about the show moving to Broadway. It had completed its acclaimed run at the Public Theatre in January 2014.
Bechdel said she remains "entranced" by the efforts of the musical's creators, Lisa Kron, Jeanine Tesori and Sam Gold.
"They culled the emotional nuggets out of my story and made them into a whole new thing," Bechdel wrote in an email. "But the new thing feels absolutely true to the book."
Todd McNerney, a theater professor at the College of Charleston who took the lead in arranging the "Fun Home" performance in Charleston, said he was not surprised to learn of the show's continued success.
The musical taps into the Broadway formula, offering a compelling narrative enhanced by catchy tunes and smart lyrics, yet it manages to avoid cliche, he said.
It also presents one of the most universal of all themes: family relations.
"It's about family, and we all have family," he said. "And it's about the kinds of things that families don't talk about - all families, no matter how well adjusted, have things they don't talk about."
No wonder the show has elicited such acclaim.
"It helps illustrate yet again that, for all of the differences throughout all of humanity and all people, there are a large number of similarities," McNerney said. "This play speaks to that through song and humor, but in an incredibly refreshing and engaging way."
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