'Fun Home' is finding a home on stages all over Colorado

by John Moore | Jan 17, 2018

Fun Home. Miners Alley Playhouse. Sophie Dotson. Photo by John Moore.

Sophie Dotson, who plays 'Small Alison' in Miners Alley Playhouse's staging of 'Fun Home' opening Jan. 26 in Golden, sang 'Ring of Keys' at an anti-censorship event at the theatre in September. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Landmark Best Musical of 2015 will be staged in Golden, Colorado Springs and, opening tonight, in Fort Collins

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

Fun Home
was never supposed to make it to Broadway. The first major musical with a lesbian protagonist couldn’t possibly win the Tony Award. There was no chance a touring production could ever succeed traveling the conservative heartland. And surely small theatres across America would never have the courage to stage the story themselves.

And yet … all of those things have happened.

Every state in the country has at least one homegrown production of Fun Home scheduled in 2018. Colorado has three — in Fort Collins, Golden and Colorado Springs.
“That gives me goosebumps bigger than the Rockies,” said Boulder’s Liz Armstrong, co-producer of the underdog 2015 Broadway sensation that starred Tony-nominated Douglas County native Beth Malone.

Beth Malone Fun Home QuoteMalone is fiercely vulnerable when it comes to Fun Home, based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of a woman who dives deep into her past to revisit how she discovered her own sexuality while at the same time trying to piece together the puzzle of her enigmatic father. It is a disarmingly honest musical about seeing your parents for the first time through grown-up eyes.

“At first I thought, ‘If people across the country are not going to embrace or accept Fun Home, then that is going to hurt me very deeply,’ ” Malone told the DCPA NewsCenter. “But every time I've had any fear with Fun Home … whenever we have gone to a new level or to an unknown place, love and acceptance have truly outweighed any kind of hate that steps forward to be heard.”

And the fact that Fun Home is not just coming to Colorado, but is now being made in Colorado, Malone said, “pleases me more than I can even express.”

Malone was speaking from New York during a costume fitting for her next role as no less than The Angel in the coming Broadway revival of Angels in America. She said if not for the job that promises to shoot her career into yet another stratosphere, “I would go to every single one of those productions in Colorado — just to watch the audience.”

What she would see, Malone expects, is what she saw time and again when she was performing Fun Home in Times Square: Lives changing before her eyes. Not only those in the audience struggling with their own identities, but those holding firm to moral objections to homosexuality itself.

Fun Home has this magical ability to incrementally shift people’s attitudes,” Malone said. “Fun Home has a way of teaching people how to think and how to feel from a different spot in themselves than they are used to operating from. I saw it happen with my own dad.”

Fun Home Midtown Arts CenterMalone was estranged for her conservative father for years after she came out as gay. Fun Home, she said, helped them find each another again — in an entirely new and admittedly uncomfortable context. “After he saw Fun Home,” Malone said, “I noticed just a shade more compassion in him, after having been opened up by this one very specific story.”

And in that small Fun Home example, Armstrong says, “I see the potential for a mass awakening of humanity.” Especially at the very thought that, say, a young lesbian in rural Greeley might find her way to the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins to see Fun Home when it opens on Thursday (Jan. 18).

(Photo above and right: Monica Howe and Vince Wingerter in Midtown Arts Center's production of 'Fun Home,' opening tonight, Jan. 18.)

“And that possibility moves me more than any words could ever capture,” said Armstrong, who, like Bechdel, grew up with a closeted gay father. Armstrong was raised in Texas but spent summers in Aspen before moving there at age 25 — and later to Boulder. After her parents’ divorce, she said, “Dad moved to Aspen specifically because it had a gay community that he could breathe and live in, as opposed to the Bible Belt in West Texas.”

Liz Armstring. Fun Home quoteSo Fun Home is a story that lives in her bones. New York Times theatre critic Ben Brantley called it "an extraordinary musical that pumps oxygenating fresh air into the cultural recycling center that is Broadway."

Alison is represented onstage by three actors playing the character at different ages. One of the signature moments of the musical comes in the song “Ring of Keys,” when the youngest Alison takes notice of a woman with short hair walking into a store wearing dungarees and boots — and experiences sexual attraction for the first time. This moment, Armstrong said, is a rite of passage for every young person dressed in skin, regardless of sexual orientation.

“Everyone has a ‘ring of keys’ moment,” Armstrong said. “Everyone has to find themselves.” That is just one reason Malone believes the potential audience for Fun Home is really anyone born of a mother. “Because Fun Home is not only the story of Alison,” she said. “It’s also about her father, Bruce. It’s also about her mother, Helen. It is also about the other kids. It’s about anyone who was raised in a house with a family. And when you walk out, you'll be like, ‘Oh. Wow.’ Now I'll have to give my entire identity some thought.’ ”

Putting the fun into Fun Home

Kurt Terrio, Len Matheo and Scott RC Levy are the three Colorado theatre producers who had their own, more literal, “ring of keys” moments — when each saw Fun Home for the first time and immediately knew they had to one day produce it themselves. They are the ones who accepted the risk of staging Fun Home at, respectively, the Midtown Arts Center in Fort Collins, Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.

None of them has yet experienced pushback from any subscribers based on the story subject. Matheo, frankly, thinks that’s in part “because many of them don’t yet know exactly what it is,” he said. But he thinks some blowback is inevitable, based on Miners Alley Playhouse’s recent experience of staging HIR. That was an intentionally abrasive and dark comedy that almost incidentally features a trans teenager.

“But I personally think, and perhaps, naively so, that Fun Home is so powerful, so beautiful and so perfect that it will transcend the hate-filled responses we received when we produced HIR,” Matheo said.  

And when Matheo says he thinks Fun Home is perfect, he means it. “The music is perfect, the book is perfect, Alison Bechdel’s novel is perfect and, quite honestly, my cast is perfect,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime show.”

In Fort Collins, Terrio has made scoring the first Colorado stagings of big and often envelope-pushing Broadway musicals part of Midtown Arts Center’s mission. His premieres have included Next to Normal, once, In the Heights, Rent and Avenue Q.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

“I’ve always admired Kurt’s tenacity when it comes to bringing new shows to the Midtown Arts Center,” said actor Alisa Metcalf, who plays Alison’s embattled mother, Helen. “I think it’s pretty amazing that we get to be a part of this regional premiere of Fun Home. It’s such special story, and I’m excited to get to be a part of telling this very complicated relationship this woman has with her husband.”

(Note: It was announced last week that the Midtown Arts Center property has been sold, and the theatre company will have to find a new home by the end of 2019.)

Levy believes it is imperative that he seize the opportunity to stage landmark stories like Fun Home in Colorado Springs, one of the largest military cities in the world, when they become available. “The chance to produce the regional premiere here is an opportunity I would never pass up,” said Levy. And if members of his audience take issue with the story, content or characters, he added, “I would welcome that — so that the dialogue can continue.”

Abigail Kochevar. Miners Alley Playhouse. Fun Home. Photo by John MooreKeeping a watchful eye

Malone will be keenly watching from New York for news of the three Colorado productions, and for word on how people are receiving them.

“You have no way of knowing the depth of my allegiance to the state of Colorado,” said Malone, a graduate of Douglas County High School and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. “I love every square mile of it. More than anything, I want the people I care so much about to see this beautiful piece of theatre that I was working on for five years. To see why it's so important to me. Hopefully it will resonate in their own lives. I know it will.”

(PIctured right: Abigail Kochevar rehearsing for Miners Alley Playhouse's 'Fun Home,' opening Jan. 26. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

And there’s no arguing with the message, she said.

“Shame causes unnecessary anguish and is handed down from generation to generation,” she said. “Fun Home sometimes has the effect of leaving people asking themselves what role they have played in this cycle. And that can be a very life-altering question.

“I can’t wait to hear what people think when they see it and hear it and feel it.”

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

 

Fun Home in Colorado: Ticket information:

MIDTOWN ARTS CENTER
Jan. 18-March 17
3750 S. Mason St, Fort Collins, 970-225-2555 or midtownartscenter.com
Capacity: 236

  • Director: Kurt Terrio
  • Musical Director: Paul Falk
  • Bruce: Vince Wingerter
  • Helen: Alisa Metcalf
  • Small Alison: Julia Gibson and Ella Sokolowski
  • Adult Alison: Monica Howe
  • Medium Alison: Sarah Briana Lewis
  • Joan: Zulfiya Julia Asquino
  • John: Ryan Fisher
  • Roy/Mark/Pete/Bobby/Jeremy: Corbin Payne
  • Christian: Matthew Farley 

MINERS ALLEY PLAYHOUSE
Jan. 26-March 4
1224 Washington St., Golden, 303-935-3044 or minersalley.com
Capacity: 90

  • Director: Len Matheo
  • Musical Director: Mitch Samu
  • Bruce: Rory Pierce
  • Helen: Heather Lacy
  • Small Alison: Sophie Dotson
  • Adult Alison: Susannah McLeod
  • Medium Alison: Abigail Kochevar
  • Joan: Chloe McLeod
  • John: Brody Lineaweaver
  • Roy/Mark/Pete/Bobby/Jeremy: Marco Robinson
  • Christian: Jack Eller 

COLORADO SPRINGS FINE ARTS CENTER AT COLORADO COLLEGE
March 29-April 22
30 W. Dale St., Colorado Springs, 719-634-5581 or
csfineartscenter.org
Capacity: 399

  • Director: Nathan Halvorson
  • Bruce: Patrick Oliver Jones
  • Helen: Megan Van De Hey
  • Small Alison: Kelly Tanburg
  • Adult Alison: Allison Mickelson
  • Medium Alison: Jessica Kahkoska
  • Joan: Mackenzie Beyer
  • John Bechdel: Gabe Levy
  • Roy/Mark/Pete/Bobby/Jeremy: Parker Fowler
  • Christian Bechdel: Atticus Baker
  • Child Understudy: Ellie Levy

ABOUT FUN HOME

  • Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic-novel memoir
  • Book and lyrics by Lisa Kron
  • Music by Jeanine Tesori

Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of Fun Home:

Video: Beth Malone talks Fun Home, sings Broncos anthem

Beth Malone: Fun Home is 'for anyone born of a mother'
Beth Malone returns to Denver to perform So Far
Denver’s Sweeney Todd will return with Fun Home tour
Denver’s Beth Malone returning to Broadway in Fun Home

Leave a comment

POPULAR POSTS
 
ABOUT THE EDITOR
John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.