“It’s like Sondheim only better.”
A bold declaration by the director of Bainbridge Performing Art’s imminent production of “Fun Home,” perhaps, but not entirely unearned.
“The music is so beautiful,” Kate Meyers explained. “The harmonies, there’s some dissonance in it, which is really wonderful because it goes with the dissonance in the family, but there’s so much humor and love in it. The music is just spectacular.”
And that’s from a lady who doesn’t particularly love musicals.
A longtime BPA presence, Meyers, an Island Treasure awardee, has helmed productions for the Bainbridge company ranging from classical (“Romeo and Juliet,” “Much Ado About Nothing”) to comedic (“Picasso at the Lapin Agile”), to dramatic (“The Kentucky Cycle,” “Snow Falling on Cedars,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Amadeus”) to more contemporary “dramedies” (“The Revolutionists,” “August: Osage County”) — but “Fun Home” is her first full musical.
“It’s got an incredible story,” Meyers said. “It’s got a lot of heart. It’s got a great message and really interesting people that you don’t usually see in a story on stage.
“Sometimes I walk out of musicals — and this is why I don’t normally like musicals — and I can’t even think of a song,” she added. “But this one has so many just really fabulous songs, and the songs aren’t just like [as] often in a musical somebody breaks out into song all of a sudden and it doesn’t have anything to do with the show. [In] this, the songs tell the story as well.”
That story is the true-life tale of American cartoonist and author Alison Bechdel (from whose name comes the prominent pop-culture bellwether) looking back at her childhood, discovering her sexuality, exploring her relationship with her closeted gay father and her attempts to unlock the mysteries surrounding his life, as based on her 2006 autobiographical graphic novel of the same name.
It was adapted by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori and ultimately became the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist.
The original Broadway production opened in 2015 and was nominated for 12 Tony Awards (winning five, including Best Musical) and its cast album received a nomination for the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. (Fun aside about “Fun Home”: Bainbridge High School graduate David Zinn, Class of ’87, designed the sets and costumes of that run and earned one of those aforementioned Tony Award nominations).
The story is told in a series of non-linear vignettes flashing back to different points in Alison’s life, each connected by narration provided by the adult Alison character, played in the BPA production by Natalie Moe, her first appearance there in more than a decade (she last appeared in “Kiss Me, Kate”).
“I’ve come to see shows here over the years, I have friends who have been in so many shows here, but schedules just haven’t really allowed me, with the commute … but I work downtown now so I can make the commute and I love this show,” Moe said. “It’s funny, there are some really very sweet moments in it.”
The two younger iterations of Alison, Medium and Small, are played by Emily Jo Bryant and Evelyn Cantwell, respectively, and the trio have been working together to ensure a commonality among their performances.
“They’ve been watching each other, and they have some similarities anyway, but they’ve been watching each other and trying to develop similar mannerisms,” Meyers said. “Some things they just do naturally and they actually kind of look alike to me anyway. I think sometimes there’s this serendipity or cosmic thing that happens and the right people show up for the right show at the right time and to me this a right-time show for me.”
Moe agreed, saying nine people was, “a pretty ideal cast size.”
Troy Wageman, last seen in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” plays Bruce, the father; Rachel Wilke is the mother; and Casey Hartman, Garrett Dill, Sophia Marchinek and Willow Erdman are the rest of the cast.
The show runs Friday, March 13 through Sunday, March 29. Evening shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday matinees begin at 3 p.m., plus a special pay-what-you-can preview performance at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12.
Tickets, $29 for adults, $24 for seniors, students, youth, military, and teachers, may be purchased online at www.bainbridgeperformingarts.org, by phone at 206-842-8569, or in person at BPA (200 Madison Ave. North). First Saturday “Teen” tickets are $5 per youth on the first Saturday of the run, March 15. Box office hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and one hour prior to each performance.
“Fun Home” was only staged in the Seattle area once before, during the initial professional run at the Paramount. The subject matter will likely keep less adventurous companies away, the director said.
“Because it’s kind of quirky, it takes place partly in a funeral home, and it’s a coming out story so there aren’t very many companies that will really want to do something like that,” she said. “But it’s so beautiful. The love story in it is so wonderful and you just don’t see gay love stories on stage.
“There are characters throughout the show where, even though it’s a unique story … everyone is going to find someone that will probably rip their heart out because it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s me!’ The mother has a song at the end about how her life ended up the way it did [and] every woman alive will cry at that song because … every woman knows her pain, knows that she’s going through.”
Working with actors of various ages was an aspect of the production she was especially enjoying, Meyers said.
“So many of my favorite shows have been where I’ve got multi-generational [casts],” she said. “As long as you don’t have too many kids, if you get too many kids then they can get out of control. But I love this kind of environment because I find the adults get inspired by the energy and the freshness and the naturalness of the kids, and the kids learn a lot of of professional stuff from the adults.”
The show takes a refreshingly frank look at the yesteryear of a time period, the ’70s and ’80s, very often fetishized and idealized in our current culture.
“[Bechdel] does talk in an interview about how her family would not have been the way it was if they hadn’t come along in the time period they did,” Moe said. “Because her parents were before Stonewall, and for her mom women’s lib wasn’t really quite at thing so she was kind of stuck in this marriage, and her dad was in the closet and they produced her. And she was kind of after all this stuff was just happening, the early ’80s was when she was coming into adulthood, and realized that she had more freedom than either of her parents did.”