Read the original comic. See the musical adaptation.
Marvel at the “repetition without replication” (Hutcheon, 2012, p. 7).
Alison Bechdel’s ‘tragicomic’ memoir, Fun Home (2006), is achingly moving as it propels readers through her childhood and young adulthood in a family which struggles yet copes, explodes yet has love and fun, and gets through painfully yet emphatically. Comics panels depict and convey Bechdel’s desire to connect with a demanding, enigmatic, secretive gay father, as well as her growing recognition and eventual celebration of her own lesbian identity. All the while, frank images, sumptuous captions, and plentiful samples of literary-text-as-illustration saturate the pages with poignancy, family history, and her father’s suicide. Bechdel’s yearnings, pluck, and compelling sequential art are so absorbing that readers will want to experience her memoir in a cover-to-cover sitting.
Adaptation of this comic into Fun Home, the musical, presents Bechdel’s memoir within the wonderful accouterments of live theater (as seen on May 18, 2016 at the Circle in the Square theatre on Broadway in New York City). Changes in presentation are distinct; stage replaces page, music voices characters’ views and readers’ reactions, a succinct and passionate script supplants eloquent text, and audience members are in a social group setting for the story rather than experiencing a comic solo.
Despite changes from the comic, the audience is propelled through the musical as well. The basics of Bechdel’s memoir are present in the musical’s characters, scenes, and events. (A similar idea , i.e., “enough familiar pieces,” is presented by Andrew Sparling in his blog.) The underlying visual guidance of a comics author/artist, however, is replaced with the ingenious incorporation of an adult ‘Alison’ [Bechdel] who roams the stage throughout the ‘years,’ providing intermittent narration and a number of descriptive or explanatory ‘verbal captions.’ Instead of comics panels which connect via layout, perspective and view, there is constant connection of moments and scenes on stage — in full view with no curtains, actors move, scenery changes, lighting transforms, a conductor directs, and musicians play. Instead of gutters of space on comics pages, there are gutters of expectant silence in the theatre. Instead of a cover-to-cover read, audiences are swept along a start-to-finish production with no intermission.
Lisa Kron, creator of the “book & lyrics” for Fun Home, the musical, notes the “deep river of yearning that flows through [Bechdel’s comic]” (Ross, May 2016, p. 21). As explained above, a number of features in the musical create that “deep river of yearning” on stage as well.
Bechdel, A. (2006). Fun home: A family tragicomic. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Hutcheon, L. (2012). A theory of adaptation, 2nd edition. London, UK: Routledge.
Ross, B. (Ed.). (May 2016). Playbill: Circle in the Square. New York, NY: Playbill.