Fun Home’s incredible journey & a change of major for actress Abby Corrigan
By the time that Fun Home opened on Broadway in 2015, the Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron musical had been—in some form or another—in gestation and steadily picking up steam for over six years. Longer, of course, if you take into consideration the fact that Alison Bechdel’s game-changing, best-selling graphic novel, upon which the musical is based, was published in 2006.
Fun Home is Bechdel’s autobiographical story about her coming of age, realizing that she was gay, and dealing with the suicide of her father, who was also gay and lived his life in the closet. It is a life-affirming, ingeniously moving musical, the kind which comes along only a few times a generation.
The musical had spent four years in development with various workshops and readings before it finally opened at Off-Broadway’s Public Theater in 2013. Critics raved. The entire run sold out. Commercial producers started circling.
But the move to Broadway didn’t happen immediately, and instead—for the next year—the team that had amassed around the show patiently waited and took their time getting everything just right (including the right theater) before making the big move. Off-Broadway success does not guarantee a Broadway hit, where theaters are larger, costs are through the roof, and tourists can make or break a show. (They are not known for flocking to small musicals with serious, thought-provoking subject matter.)
Composer and lyricist Tesori had already experienced this both ways, firsthand: Violet sat in waiting for 17 years before the time—and the star—was right for a Broadway transfer. With Caroline, or Change, her brilliant masterwork written with Tony Kushner, only two months fell between the show’s Off-Broadway closure and Broadway opening. It closed at a complete financial loss after only four months on the boards.
Needless to say, Fun Home triumphed when it finally opened on Broadway in the spring of 2015, just before that year’s Tony cutoff date. It opened only seven days after that year’s other critical juggernaut, the sumptuous, tourist-friendly An American in Paris. No one was quite sure how that year’s Tony Awards would play out. History had told us that the splashier, happier musical would usually beat out the smaller, artier choice, as was the case with the showdowns between Billy Elliot and Next to Normal; The Lion King and Ragtime; The Phantom of the Opera and Into the Woods; La Cage aux Folles and Sunday in the Park with George.
But Fun Home pulled it off; it was Moonlight to An American in Paris’ La La Land. It won five of its 12 nominations, including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book, and Best Direction. There is no doubt that those awards went a long way toward guaranteeing Fun Home’s place on the road. And finally, after a year winding its way around the country, Fun Home will open at the Boston Opera House on Oct 17, where it will run through Oct 29.
Making her professional acting debut on stage is Abby Corrigan, a 19-year-old actress from Charlotte, North Carolina, who has been with the tour since day one. The role of Alison is shared by three actresses, each playing her at a different time in her life; Corrigan plays Medium Alison.
“It’s honestly the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” said Corrigan. “I’ve wanted my whole life to work on a project [like this]. It’s all about collaboration and exploration, and that’s everything that I could ever wish for. I’m lucky to be a part of a project where I’m surrounded by everyone that just loves this piece. That’s such a gift.”
Corrigan majored in musical theater at an arts high school back home in Charlotte, and she had been spending her summers in Los Angeles training at an acting studio. Her mother and father—both in the business and intimately acquainted with its pitfalls and difficulties—weren’t initially crazy about the idea of her becoming an actress. “But that’s just what I am, and they realized that,” she said.
Having graduated from high school last spring, Corrigan was well into the college application and audition process by the time that Fun Home came up. In fact, she was in New York auditioning for colleges when she booked the job. She turned down her admissions offers from all five schools that had accepted her, and she cancelled her audition for Juilliard.
“I was excited to go to college, but this is exactly what I wanted to happen,” said Corrigan. But with Fun Home winding down (the tour ends in December), Corrigan finds herself looking into the future again, trying to find the balance between being a 19-year-old woman and an actress decades away from her peak.
So while college remains a goal for Corrigan (though she no longer sees the need to study musical theater), she’s decided to move to New York when the tour wraps to create what she calls her own sort of classroom. “I’m the kind of person that likes to learn, but I don’t have time for the extra bullshit that’s not going to help me in the long run,” she said. “I’ve always been that way.”
Corrigan says that her time on the road with Fun Home helped her make this decision, with fellow cast members and crewmates urging her to continue her education but in a field other than theater. “I want to be able to build a classroom for myself,” she said. “I feel like that’s more accepted nowadays, especially in this industry. People aren’t going to say, ‘Oh, you didn’t get a degree, we can’t take you for this role.’ Nobody says that.”
But Fun Home is, in many ways, a major part of Corrigan’s education, and she intends to ride that momentum straight into New York next year. She plans on moving in with fellow cast member, best friend, and understudy Caroline Murrah. “Me and Caroline, we’re just planning all the time on Pinterest, all the time picking out what our rooms are going to look like,” said Corrigan. “We’re such girls. It’s where I’ve dreamed to be since I was young. I’ve got to get in that city.”
FUN HOME. 10.17–10.29 AT THE BOSTON OPERA HOUSE, 539 WASHINGTON ST., BOSTON. BOSTON.BROADWAY.COM