Alison Bechdel’s graphic coming-of-age memoir, “Fun Home,” doesn’t exactly seem the stuff of Broadway musicals. The book -- which has become a touchstone of gender identity since its 2006 publication -- is about growing up in a small Pennsylvania town in an eccentric family that runs a funeral home, with a closeted gay father as Bechdel, herself, struggles with being gay. Shortly after coming out to her father, he committed suicide. Not exactly typical fodder for splashy song and dance numbers.
On Tuesday morning, however, the musical adaptation of “Fun Home,” directed by Sam Gold with music by Jeanine Tesori and a book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, earned 12 Tony nominations, including best musical.
When reached at her Vermont home while working on a new memoir in cartoon form, Bechdel seemed genuinely surprised but thrilled about the nominations.
“Fun home” is dense and poignant and funny, a real probing of artistic and sexual identity. Did you ever imagine it as a musical?
No. But it’s so cool – I just feel like I’ve been having a dream for a while now, a good dream! It was amazing to see the play. I’ve seen it a lot, on Broadway four times and then off-Broadway maybe eight times. And when I do, I have this weird feeling, like, "Oh, I wanna live in that play"; and then I have to remind myself, "Wait, I kind of did."
What was it like to see such personal material performed musically?
I found it incredibly, powerfully moving. Because the music feels really right. I’m not a musical theater person, so I didn’t really know what to expect. If anything, I thought it would be like a version of my story but maybe a little lighter or less serious. But it felt like the opposite to me; it had a very immediate emotional impact on me because it felt so true to the story. I feel really lucky. The chances that would not have happened are big. It feels like this amazing confluence of things -- Sam is an amazing director, the actors are incredible, it’s just been weirdly amazing.
Has your family seen it?
My brothers haven’t seen the Broadway version, but they’ve seen it Off-Broadway. Both of them loved it, they were very excited about it.
Gay marriage and transgender issues have been in the news a lot lately – do you feel the musical is especially timely, perhaps riding a cultural wave?
What’s really amazing is that the Supreme Court is hearing the same-sex argument on the same day the Tony nominations came out; so, yeah, a cultural moment is definitely afoot. It’s a moment of chaos after decades of people doing a lot of hard work -- they look like leaps forward, but in terms of transgender issues, gay marriage, the LGBT movement, people have been doing the work for a while now.
What’s your take on the current crop of Tony-nominated productions, which reflect some hefty material?
I really have not seen that much theater; which is weird because I grew up in a theatrical family, my mom loved it, but I never caught the bug. Now I have. I’m excited and into it! I haven’t seen everything out now, so I can’t speak to [the current crop]. But I’ve heard from people that they’re noticing a younger audience at “Fun Home.” So maybe there’s a younger generation of people coming to the theater and they want something edgier.
What are you writing these days?
I’m trying to write another book, but I’ve been very distracted. I just got back from New York doing publicity for the play. The new book is a graphic memoir about physical fitness and the aging body. I’m 54 -- it’s been an enduring preoccupation of mine.
Do you see the musical as having the potential to reach a wider, more mainstream audience than the book?
That’s the great hope, and the excitement, of all this, yeah -- that this story will reach a much wider audience than it has as just a book. I really hope that happens. Based on reactions from people at the theater, they’ve been deeply moved by it. And not just gay people; it seems to really be hitting a nerve universally. It’s about a dysfunctional family -- and a lot of us come from those.