11/16/2015 By Clarissa Grunwald and Lucy Kirkman

Students Talk Shop With Cast and Crew of Acclaimed Broadway Musical

Students enrolled in English classes at Franklin & Marshall College and members of the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House community traveled to New York City in late October to see the musical, "Fun Home," and get a behind-the-scenes look at the Tony Award-winning production.  

Fifty students made the trip, which was organized by the Writers House and sponsored by playwright and 1971 F&M alumnus James Lapine, the author of "Into the Woods," arranged for the group to meet the cast, stage and productions crews after the show.

"Fun Home" is based on Alison Bechdel's autobiographic graphic novel of the same name. The book and musical chronicle Bechdel's difficult relationship with her father, which is complicated by the revelation that her father, like her, is gay. 

  • Cast and production crew met with students after the show for a conversation about their experiences performing and staging "Fun Home." Cast and production crew met with students after the show for a conversation about their experiences performing and staging "Fun Home." Image Credit: Philadelphia Alumni Writers House

The show was performed at Circle in the Square on Broadway, a nontraditional theater in which the stage is positioned in the middle of the seating area, giving each audience member a distinctive perspective. Lapine said he had seen "Fun Home" several times since it debuted at Circle in the Square, and the experience is different each time.

"It was a really unique experience, especially with the seating being all around the stage," junior Juliana Knight said of the performance. "I thought the actors did a phenomenal job with some difficult subject matter."

Senior Morgan Kincade said she was saddened that so many other stories of lesbian women have not been told, but was "grateful that I had the opportunity to hear Bechdel's story on such an important cultural platform as the Broadway stage. It was inspiring to witness how various creative forms like the graphic novel and the musical could interact."

The cast included Beth Malone as adult Alison and Gabriella Pizzolo and Emily Skeggs as her child and college-aged counterparts, respectively. Students described Michael Cerveris as equal parts sympathetic and volatile in his role as Alison's father, Bruce, a role that won him a Tony award. Also notable were child actors Oscar Williams and Zell Steele Morrow, who provided comic relief as Alison’s brothers, John and Christian, and Judy Kuhn as Alison’s mother, Helen, who struggles to keep order in her increasingly chaotic household. 

  • Broadway's Circle in the Square has the stage in the middle of the seating area, giving each audience member a distinctive perspective. Here, students listen to the perspectives of the cast and production crew. Broadway's Circle in the Square has the stage in the middle of the seating area, giving each audience member a distinctive perspective. Here, students listen to the perspectives of the cast and production crew. Image Credit: Philadelphia Alumni Writers House

Following the show, the cast and production crew met with students to talk about their experiences bringing "Fun Home" to life. Only four performers and crew were expected, but the majority of the cast, as well as members of the production team, showed for the talkback.

Among the group was Jeanine Tesori, the show's composer, who discussed her work on the book with librettist Lisa Kron, a collaboration that would eventually lead to the two becoming the first female writing team to win a Tony for best musical score.

The youngest actors, Pizzolo, Williams and Morrow, showed maturity and insight, discussing everything from their plans for the future to the importance of the gay rights movement.

After leaving the theatre, students had an hour to grab dinner, and then it was time to board the buses and head home. They expressed gratitude to Lapine for giving them the opportunity to see an award-winning show and meet the people who made it happen.

  • Playwright and director James Lapine '71 speaks to English professors Kerry Sherin Wright, Sands Hall and Kabi Hartman before the show Playwright and director James Lapine '71 speaks to English professors Kerry Sherin Wright, Sands Hall and Kabi Hartman before the show Image Credit: Philadelphia Alumni Writers House
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