Sometimes, the most improbable things happen. Maybe it’s magic—or the electromagnetic pull of stars in a perfect alignment. But the story of Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel, and its surprisingly swift journey back to an audience right where the story takes place was unlikely at best.
Alison’s graphic novel was released eleven years ago—a book of growing up in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, a story of family, of life in the funeral home business, and of the secrets a family keeps. It’s a story of personal exploration, and of coming out, as Alison discovers her sexual orientation. It might well have been a book that found a small, dedicated following, a niche market. Instead, it was discovered by a wide audience, found both bestseller status and critical acclaim, and by the 2008 academic season was a text for colleges in literature courses.
Then, in 2013, it was turned into a musical. And again, the power of this story reached to a wide audience. Off-Broadway runs were extended, awards won, and by 2015, the musical Fun Home opened on Broadway for hundreds of performances. Even though the Broadway show is still touring nationally, the musical has just been released this summer for regional theaters.
“There’s no way [Millbrook Playhouse] will get the rights to Fun Home—not while it’s still a national Broadway tour show.” At least that’s what David Leidholt, creative director at Millbrook Playhouse in Mill Hall, Pennsylvania, thought. But he saw that Samuel French, the drama leasing company, was offering rights for the show for the 2017 production year. David applied, even though when he talked to the representative about the local connection (Beech Creek is seven miles away), the agent was not encouraging. Millbrook is an established small regional theater, mostly with summer productions. They are known for performing light “family-friendly” shows, and the musicals like Grease and Annie, along with farces, are the shows that sell well.
But David Leidholt has been asking the question, “Where is the next generation going in theater?” Last year, Millbrook performed Rock of Ages, which features heavy rock bands from the 1980s. Though dramatically different from their traditional fare, it did very well and helped expand the diverse theater clientele the Millbrook attracts.
And Millbrook only needed to wait one week before their representative called with the stunning news. They would be among the first regional theaters to produce Fun Home. It’s a long leap from traditional, but the board of directors fully supported the decision to add the local story as one of the eight shows for this year. Courtney Laine Self will be directing Fun Home. Her work in The Little Mermaid and Mary Poppins brought these musicals to life on Ryan Main Stage in Mill Hall, and she brings a different vision to every project.
Though a very different type of musical, people are excited about the local production. It is, in a sense, a story that includes Millbrook Playhouse, as Alison’s mother was a performer at Millbrook, and her father, Bruce, was on the board of directors. Since this is a community with a long memory, as people purchase tickets, they reminisce about the family. David Gritzner, the general manager of Millbrook Playhouse, worked at the theater in 1985, one of the years that Helen Bechdel performed on stage. Since Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher, he was a part of the childhood memories of an entire generation of kids from this part of Clinton County.
Even Alison herself commented on the Millbrook production of her story. In a recent interview she notes, “In an even weirder twist, the summer stock theater where my mother performed for many, many years when I was a kid, they’re doing Fun Home this summer.”
The play runs from July 28 to August 6 at the Ryan Main Stage. Tickets for Fun Home, along with all the other shows this season, are available now either from the box office (570) 748-8083 or at www.millbrookplayhouse.net.