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Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" Will Now Be a New York Musical

A promotional photo showing young alison sitting on a bed

Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home is the first mainstream musical that centers on the story of a young lesbian, according to the show's creators. 

The bestselling memoir about the relationship between the deep-thinking artist who grew up to pen comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For and her unhappy, closeted father premieres as a musical at the New York Public Theater on October 22. Three women of different ages will play Alison, who spends the book reflecting from middle age on the tense childhood spent partly in the funeral home her parents operated.

The promotional photos of the show are pretty hilarious, if you've read the dark memoir. Here's the whole unhappy family dancing! 

the cast dancing, doing jazz hands

And Alisons of all ages pondering their identities: 

Three actresses staring into the distance

There are many challenges to adapting the complex, vulnerable graphic novel into musical theater, including how sexual orientation will work into the promotion of the show. As the Slate headline “Is America Ready for a Musical About a Butch Lesbian?” makes clear, some producers may worry that straight audiences won’t go see a play that focuses on the story of a lesbian. The show’s promotional description on Playbill and Broadway.com don’t directly mention queerness at all—instead, they pitch the play as a mystery about a father and daughter:

When her father dies unexpectedly, graphic novelist Alison dives deep into her past to tell the story of the volatile, brilliant, one-of-a-kind man whose temperament and secrets defined her family and her life. Moving between past and present, Alison relives her unique childhood playing at the family's Bechdel Funeral Home, her growing understanding of her own sexuality and the looming, unanswerable questions about her father's hidden desires.

Clearly, queerness is central to this story and is a major crux of Bechdel’s memoir. As a straight person, I was drawn into Bechdel’s memoir in a large part because her sexuality—and her father’s—are a major part of the story from the get-go. The raw honesty of the book strikes readers immediately; Fun Home feels like a story Bechdel has waited a long time to tell and is writing exactly the way she wants.  I hope the people promoting Fun Home the musical see the value in telling a compelling personal story, rather weakening the plot by going out of their way to make sure straight people feel invited to listen.

While the promotional text for the show downplays the queer aspects, it seems like show writer Lisa Kron is aware that she is in a tricky place balancing the significance of sexuality to the story and the desire to make the show resonate with straight audiences.  “Musicals are traditionally the straightest of the straight, even though they were largely made by gay men. They're about a leading man and an ingénue,” Kron noted to Slate. She says she struggled to adapt the story in a sincere way, but with language that would make sense to straight folks.

Kron described feeling motivated to get Fun Home right after seeing several recent musicals where “there was a moment where someone would say the word lesbian as a non sequitur because it was funny. I’d be so on board, and then I’d be slapped in the face by it. It was just like, This character’s a joke. This is not a person." 

As that interview reports, several of the show’s songs deal directly with Alison’s sexuality. One called “Al for Short” is about young Alison imagining herself as a heroic rescuer of damsels and tune “Changing My Major” deals with Alison discovering sex in college. 


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Comments

9 comments have been made. Post a comment.

It's wonderful and brave and funny

I saw it this week, and was deeply moved. Alison's coming of age and coming out are central to the play. There ARE lots of funny moments in the play, and much of that comedy rests on the small, talented shoulders of young Sydney Lucas, who plays "small Alison" and sings the hell out of couple of numbers that makes the character's queerness very clear. Go see it.

The book is also great!

Hey Martha you should definitely check out the graphic novel. Unless you already have. The book is just as good and of course shows what a great story teller Alison Bechdel is. And the fact that it's all true is what makes it so fascinating.

Why are you using a slur

Given that the author of this piece is straight, why exactly did they feel it necessary to throw around the word "queer" constantly when that word is a slur which straight people use in violence against LGBT people? It's extremely offensive. Just because a certain portion of the LGBT community have "reclaimed" queer for their own use does not mean it's okay for straight people to use that word.

queer

there is a whole segment of academic media criticism called queer theory and it differs from gay/lesbian theory in many ways, so if the author is writing from the position of reading the text through the lens of queer theory, it is appropriate to use the related terminology. let's get real, with someone like alison bechdel (and a goodly portion of the lesbian [see, here is a point where i would say "queer" as a way to be more inclusive, but then you would stop listening to what i have to say] community), it is not just her lesbian-ness that makes her a potential "other" to a straight audience but also her butchness/non-confirming gender/gender queerness. i can name multiple times in my own personal experience when my (butch lesbian) gender presentation was a bigger issue than my sexuality. so when someone is transgressing in more than one way, it is easier and more flexible to reference queerness rather than constantly writing a list of all the different ways someone is being queer. anyway, this is all a very limited explanation - someone with more time and patience could write a much more intricate essay on all of the nuances and uses of the word "queer" - in fact, i bet you could find something like that on the interwebs right now.

Funnily enough I am an

Funnily enough I am an academic and perfectly well versed in "queer theory". I am also a butch dyke who doesn't appreciate my refusal to perform femininity being referred to by straight people using a slur any more than I appreciate my sexuality being referred to using a slur. "Queer" is not "inclusive"; a certain segment of the LGBT population have decided that they want to call themselves that and I really don't care about how other people choose to name themselves, but to me it is a slur that men like to yell at me whilst threatening me with rape and violence. Funnily enough I don't particularly appreciate other people telling me that I ought to be happy about being referred to with a word that evokes violence.

I think there's strengths to

I think there's strengths to both sides of your respective arguments.
On one hand, Bechdel's work is highly respected and integrated into academia, which, as stated, uses the word "queer" in a non-violent manner (jumping off of the historical reclamation of the word by some non-hetero defined groups), and is meant to be inclusive and deny labels to any such person. For example, if I want to talk about the intersectional struggles of a community, I perhaps would describe that community as "queer" (non hetero, non gender conforming, "othered' sexualities) instead of labeling the people who would be included in that group. I know a man who identifies himself as queer, though many would say he is a straight man. He doesn't view his sexuality as heterosexual, or his identity as strictly "male," and so people struggle with trying to label him. Therefore, he describes himself as queer to place himself within a community and deny the labels which society wishes to place on him. He is not simply "bi-sexual," "heterosexual," "pansexual," or a "cross-dresser," as some might want to categorize him. He is queer and that means something to him, whereas a list of words which are supposed to tell you what he does with who, does not. He doesn't wish to define himself so that others can feel comfortable in the knowledge of what he does in private, or how he presents himself in public.
On that other hand, however, one cannot refuse, deny, or forget the influence and history of words. "Queer" has a strong negative connotation for many people and will always effect them. I have a similar issue with the word "rape." Some argue that the more general term "sexual assault" trivializes the crime itself, so "rape" is a stronger word which makes people take it more seriously, etc., etc., blah blah blah,
but I would prefer to never hear it or read it. Or write it.
I don't think any one person should be "happy" with a dangerous word being used, but I think it's also important to recognize that for many people, stating their "queerness" is empowering. People experience empowerment in different ways, and the use of language and words will always change over time. "Subversive" used to be a word which connoted something terrible, aligned with infiltration, torture, murder. Now it's a term which means that you are rebellious, resistant to the norms, you are "underground." The connotation has completely changed. It's cool and acceptable to be described as Subversive. But my dad still gives me a funny look every time I use the word. His personal history disagrees with the use of the word. He agrees however, that the word has changed and one day that the previous meaning will be part of history and no longer one's lived experience.
I think that sensitivity and acceptance must go both ways. However, this doesn't resolve the question of "should that word be used by a straight person in this article," and " is it appropriate for Alison Bechdel's work to be described as Queer, even though she uses that word herself?"
Just some thoughts!

Spoilers?

I am a huge fan of Fun Home. I can understand why the show's sexuality isn't front and center, even though it is a huge part of the story. But what if one of the decisions not to include it in the description is because it could be considered a spoiler? (Spoiler Alert!) Both Alison and her father realize they are gay throughout the course of the story -- and that's a pretty shocking development. It could affect how people interpret the story.

I saw Next to Normal a few years ago and didn't know much about the secrets inherent in that story. The emotional impact of discovering these secrets was much greater than if I had gone into the show knowing them.

That said, I think most people in the audience, at least in the beginning, will be familiar with Fun Home and the sexuality of the characters.

Just....

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!!!

Come to England, please.

Also, I like not telling people things are queer sometimes and then BAM! It's there for them to deal with. On the one hand, it can come off as the promoters being afraid of the subject matter. On the other hand, people might go see it who wouldn't otherwise.

Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home"

I like the word "queer," because to me it conveys somewhat of an outsider status, and while I strongly support the right to marry, I sometimes regret that the loudest voices in our community seem to be those who want to be as much as possible like straight people (but that's another argument!).

We reclaim words all the time - Bechdel uses "dyke," and Bitch magazine carried a name that is still used as a derogatory term.

I do have a bit of trouble getting behind "bitch" and "slut." But I don't criticize people who use those terms, unless they are used by a man (or in anger). That's true for all the other terms I've mentioned.

But I will never use "cunt" and "fish." Never.

Having gotten that off my ches, I love Fun House and hope it runs a long time so I can get a chance to see it in NYC.