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Communique: Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" (The Musical) Debuts In Wilmington; Onstage Through June 17

James Bowling
"Fun Home" cast

Alison Bechdel's award-winning graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy was adapted for the stage a few years ago. After a successful run on Broadway, Fun Home the musical (also award-winning, including 5 Tonys) is making its debut across the county-mainly in big cities. Wilmington is lucky to be on the list.

Holli Saperstein, Managing Director of Panache Theatrical Productions, amazingly got the rights to produce Fun Home here. Often, it takes many years before local theater companies are able to get rights to perform Broadway hits.

Fun Home is directed by Michael Lauricella (recently seen in Souvenir). The show is onstage atThalian Hall June 7 - 17 in the Stein Theatre. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday shows are at 7:30pm; Sunday shows at 3:00pm.

This is not a show for children. 

Listen above to Holli and actress Rebekah Carmichael; see our extended conversation below. 

Gina Gambony: Fun Home - it's a play that's based on a memoir.

Holli Saperstein: It is.

Gina: The memoir is actually a graphic novel!

Holli: Yes.

Gina: How did this catch your eye?

Holli: First of all, the graphic novel is incredibly cool. It was nominated for a Pulitzer prize and has won a number of book of the year awards - including the New York Times. It is a written by Alison Bechdel, who's a phenomenal writer but also an interesting person. If you've ever heard of the film Bechdel Test - that talks about how women are put in certain dialogue in films - that's her. She is made that famous. I had an opportunity to see the show and fell in love with it and thought, "This is what I like to see out of musical theater," because it's truly a moving story with real people, real characters. It's phenomenal.

Gina: Go ahead and introduce yourself.

Holli: I am managing director of Panache Productions. I know - sounds official or something, but really it means I wear a lot of hats.

Rebekah Carmichael: I'm playing Medium Allison.

Gina: Medium Allison? I understand there's Small Allison, Medium Allison, and then there's just Allison Allison?

Rebekah: [All Laugh] Yes.

Gina: Okay. Tell me about this.

Rebekah: Well, Medium Allison is 19 at that point of the show. What's significant about that age in Allison's life is that that is the time when Allison gets the chance to go outside of the home, go outside of the small hometown, and start to blossom into the person she really is. The other ages are at 12-hat's Small Allison.

Holli: Starting at 10.

Rebekah: Wow, I have to say these kids! Every time I'm watching them, I just think, "What am I doing? Why am I even in this?" The kids are so great. They offer so much energy, and I love it. But, at the age of 10, that is when Allison is beginning to go into that age when you look at another person and see if you're attracted to them or not. She's starting to realize that the concept of what she's supposed to like as far as who she's supposed to be attracted to in men or whatnot is not who she was interested in.

Holli: She realizes that she's different. She sees herself different. Then, Allison is Alison Bechdel at 43 years old. The concept is she's looking back over her life, both as seeing herself as Small Allison and seeing herself as Medium Allison and relating to how she felt at that time. The embarrassing moments we have as a kid, as an adolescent, and as a college aged person - and also looking at our parents through adult eyes. I think as adults we can all relate to that no matter what the story is. We look back at our parents and suddenly see them in a different way than we saw them when we were 12 or 19.

Gina: And you understand things that happened a little differently as you remember them.

Holli: Yes. Yes.

Rebekah: That is a huge theme in the show.

Holli: It is a huge theme in the show. Something else we talked about really candidly among the cast and Michael Lauricella, who is our director, is family secrets.

Holli: Because, sometimes, you don't know until you're 43 years old. Sometimes, you don't know those things until you're a 19-year-old or 50-year-old and going back and saying, "Oh, that's what was going on in my home at that time."

Gina: Right. I know that there are some family secrets here.

Holli: Yes. There are some family secrets here.

Gina: That are not just secrets that don't matter.

Holli: Secrets that color the entire perspective of what was going on in that home.

Gina: One thing I did note, and I don't know if this is a surprise and I shouldn't say it, but it seems that the Fun Home is actually referring to the funeral home.

Holli: Yes. And it's not a secret, Gina.

Rebekah: Yeah, it's pretty open.

Holli: Yeah, Fun Home is short for funeral home. Alison Bechdel grew up in a funeral home.

Rebekah: What I love about this script is I think about it so much. I was having a conversation a few days ago with somebody about when you get older you start to look back and think, "Oh wow, that's what was going on at that time. Wow. That changes everything!"

Rebekah: I think with it being fun home, and fun meaning funeral home, it's almost like that blanket of "Yeah, it's a funeral home, but it's fun - so we're going to think about the good things that are going on." It's kind of a mirage for the fact that it is a funeral home. It's a really interesting metaphor that Allison really grew up in and it became the graphic novel and now the show.

Gina: Alison's father is of course a huge figure in this.

Holli: Yes.

Gina: Who's playing that part?

Holli: Jamie Stone. I think people will be really surprised because most people have seen him in broad character parts - like Fagan and Oliver - but this is a very deep introspective, uptight person who's putting on airs. Not a very friendly person at times. It's a big change for Jamie as far as characterizations.

Gina: Yeah. Because, whenever I think of Jamie, I think of a funny.

Holli: Yes!

Gina: And this is not funny. 

Holli: No, it is not. Especially his part. There are funny parts of the show that are hilarious. We were crying laughing last night at some scenes with [Allison] when she's awkward in college. But his part is not funny. And he being a standup comic for many years, is a comedic actor. I think people will be surprised and pleasantly surprised. The music is beautiful, and I don't know that many people know that Jamie has that kind of lyric voice.

Gina: Actually, I did want to ask about the music. This is a new musical. How old is it?

Holli: Not old at all. It won the 2015 Best Musical. A total of five Tony Awards in 2015, I think. It departed Broadway within the last year, year and a half at max.

Rebekah: Yeah.

Holli: We are incredibly lucky to have the rights. In my newness at this production company thing, I just applied for rights when I saw it was available. Found out it was only available for professional companies. We went through an appeal process, and here we are - which is so exciting. Based upon what they wanted, we were able to get this show and get it for Wilmington. You really only see it playing in big cities across the country right now. So, I think it's an honor for Wilmington to have this.

Gina: Yeah, this is the Wilmington premiere, and it's very fast after being after winning awards on Broadway.

Holli: The New York Times calls it "breathtaking" and "musicals reimagined." It's a very unique experience, really intimate. Certainly, I think that the music itself is gorgeous, very difficult, but gorgeous.

Gina: Tell me about the music. You don't have to tell me about all the pieces, but maybe some pieces that really stand out to you.

Rebekah: One of the things that I love about the music is the lyricism. Nowadays, I'm hearing a lot of musicals that they have a lot of repeated phrases - and those are fine. It follows the pop culture too where you have the bridge and the chorus and then you have a verse and the bridge. But, with this, it really is a monologue on pitch. I love that the whole show comes from an acting point of view. I was joking with somebody when I first got the role and was reading through things, and I'm getting up on my feet and do it a few times. Then I sit down and I was like, "Wow, the content of this musical is so strong and so well written, with the music there to enhance it, it creates these feelings as opera would - whether you could understand the lyrics or not” –these, granted, are in English.

[Laughs] So, I would hope that people understand. But with this, because everything is just so enhanced and so well written and pristine, I felt like my job as an actor was made a lot easier. Everything is laid out there. I was comparing it to Shakespeare in the sense of a soliloquy. It's the entire inner monologue right there on stage. As the actor, you don't have to guess, "Oh, I wonder what they're doing to connect this dot to next one." No, they say everything. The dots are connected for you, and it's done in Fun Home in such a beautiful way. It's been so great working on this show.

Gina: Rebekah, what's a piece that you really like singing?

Rebekah: Well, I like "Changing my Major" because it's so much fun. There's so much raw emotion. It's so acting based. I've been given the freedom of just justifying these words, and it's fantastic. Though, I would also say the finale is the only time when you have all three Allison's together. They're singing together, and they're still at different times in their lives, but it's all fusing together in this beautiful way. I just want to do it justice.

The harmonies and everything remind me of Spring Awakening with how the different harmonies line up and there's the entire show that's led up to a moment. You finally get to see through a lot of the clouds and actually see the truth behind the matter.

Gina: What were you about to say about Michael?

Holli: Oh, Michael Lauricella told me last night that the lyricist had written the words in the songs in the pattern people speak. I really see that. After he pointed that out last night, it was like, "What does that line mean to you?" because it does sound like your inner dialogue.

Gina: It's like a line in the script, but it's a line in the song.

Holli: Yes! Which I think makes those songs even more important. They're not just, "Oh, let's have a song and dance number." There's a couple of fun ones like that, sure. But there's such meaning in the music.

Gina: Tell me the details about the when, where, how and so forth.

Holli: The when is June 7th, starting June 7th, which is a Thursday, running through June 17th, which is a Sunday. We have Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday performances. Thursday through Saturday is at 7:30. Sundays at three. The show is at the Ruth and Bucky Stein Theater. The Black Box theaters, well small studio theater, upstairs at Thalian Hall. You can get your tickets at thalianhall.org or by calling the box office.

We had actually applied for these rights when we did "Heathers". That's how long ago. So, it was the Ruth and Bucky Stein. I think it's going to be a perfect venue for it. We had to scale down what we thought about the stage. Benedict Fancy is doing our set, and he is super talented. Cole Marquis is doing our lights and sound, and he's really talented too.

Rebekah: He is.

Gina: I get the feeling that this is not a show for children.

Holli: I would say not because I think that the concepts are adult concepts. I mean, there are a few four letter words thrown out - especially by dad. He does say some strong language here and there. But I think that the themes are not for kids. Kids wouldn't probably really understand, and they actually might be upset at some of it. I think that they would love the number "Come to the Fun Home." But I don't think it would be appropriate for kids.

Gina: How many kids are in it?

Holli: Three kids. They're great. It's amazing how many young, talented actors we have here. It broke my heart that I couldn't cast every single one of them because they were phenomenal. But, with a show like this, you had to pre-create, not only a family unit, but three Allisons that have similarities as well. So, the dynamics are really a lot of work.

Rebekah: I mentioned this before, I think as an audience member - because I feel like an audience member every night when I'm just watching and every time I read this play - I've had to dive in deeper with myself. I've really had to self reflect, and I can't remember the last time I really worked on a character that made me ask the questions that I would ask the character to myself. I think this is a show that people can come to more than once easily and every time come out with a new question. Maybe come out with some kind of new inspiration to go talk to somebody or ask a question or try and connect with somebody who they thought was different. There are a lot of connection points in this show that I think everybody can relate to on some level.

Holli: One thing I want to say is that we have a lot of new faces. I think that that's a wonderful thing for Wilmington to get to see some brand new faces in these incredible roles. People are going to be touched, but I also think that they're going to laugh and enjoy the music and really enjoy the storyline and come out thinking this was a refreshing piece of musical theater. Michael Lauricello is doing an incredible job. He loves this piece so much.

Gina: That's really great that you got someone to direct who loves the piece so much he does.

Holli: He does. He's really passionate about it, and you can see that in everything he's touching on this.