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    Groundbreaking ‘Fun Home’ Comes to TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

    This month, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley is bringing trailblazing musical Fun Home to life at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Based on Alison Bechdel’s best-selling graphic novel memoir, this unconventional musical became one of Broadway’s biggest sensations—capturing “Best Musical” awards including the Tony, Lucille Lortel, Outer Critics Circle and Obie. Its composer and lyricist became the first female writing team to win a Tony Award for “Best Original Score.” And perhaps most groundbreaking of all, it was the first musical in Broadway history with a lesbian protagonist.

    This funny, warm and deeply moving musical follows Alison’s childhood at the family-owned funeral home (from which the title is derived), her growing understanding of her own sexuality and her grappling with unanswerable questions about her gay father. The show was an instant smash hit.

    The New York Times music critic Anthony Tomassini declared Jeanine Tesori’s score a “masterpiece” while the paper’s theatre critic Ben Brantley called the show a “beautiful heartbreaker of a musical. Fun Home finds a shining clarity that lights up the night.” He noted that Lisa Kron’s “book and resonantly precise lyrics give this show its essential spine,” and went on to list Fun Home as one of his top 15 shows of 2013.

    Other accolades included praise from Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News who called the musical “achingly beautiful” and listed it at the top of his Top 10 in Theater for 2013 list. Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times said he couldn’t think of a musical in recent years “that has touched me as much with its tender, ironic and courageous vulnerability.” Playbill described Fun Home as “the best musical of the year. An emotionally-packed piece of theatre, full of joy, heart, sorrow and uncomfortable reality.”

    Fun Home marks a return to TheatreWorks for composer Jeanine Tesori, whose history with the Silicon Valley-based company began almost 30 years ago. It was in 1989 when the then-unknown composer mailed founding artistic director Robert Kelley a cassette tape of her first musical, Galileo, for consideration. Kelley was captivated by the work, and flew to St. Louis to track her down to ask if his theatre could produce it. He found Tesori playing keyboards in the pit band for the touring musical Chess, and she happily agreed.

    Says Kelley, who is directing this TheatreWorks production of Fun Home, “Our West Coast premiere of Galileo debuted the next summer with the authors in residence, and a life-long friendship began.” A staunch fan from the start, Kelley may have suspected, but had no way of knowing, that Tesori would go on to become the most honored female American theatre composer. In the ensuring years, TheatreWorks went on to produce award-winning productions of Tesori’s musicals Violet and Caroline, or Change. Notes Kelley, “Both those musicals, like Galileo, are about the soul-stifling effects of intolerance. Fun Home is the next link in this powerful, inspiring chain.”

    Kelley first saw Fun Home in a final preview during its off-Broadway run at New York’s Public Theater. He says, “I was profoundly moved. For me that night, I knew only one thing. Some day this beautiful musical must come to TheatreWorks.” Although the show had not yet opened or been reviewed, immediately following the performance, Kelley sought out his old friend and begged her for the rights to produce Fun Home at TheatreWorks. But Tesori had a secret to share: something astonishing was happening.

    Before Fun Home had even opened Off-Broadway, plans were falling into place to transfer this stunning new work to Broadway. “Astonishing it was,” says Kelley. “Despite an incredible score, a vital script and source, and tremendously relevant themes, no one had expected this intimate, deeply personal musical to make it to Broadway. No one dreamed it would become a towering hit.” TheatreWorks would have to wait.

    The off-Broadway run at the Public Theater sold out and was extended four times. It became a 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist and garnered a raft of major awards. After it opened at Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theatre, Fun Home went on to win five Tony Awards, including the aforementioned “Best Musical” honor as well as “Best Book of a Musical,” “Best Original Score,” “Best Direction” and “Best Leading Actor,” with its cast album receiving a Grammy Award nomination for “Best Musical Theatre Album.” Fun Home would run for over a year on Broadway, followed by a national tour. Seen on stages across the world, Fun Home continues to break down barriers, set records, shed light and give hope to thousands of LGBTQ community members and their families.

    Based closely on the original graphic novel by MacArthur Genius Grant winner Bechdel, the heart of the story is the relationship between Alison and her father. Born in the 1930s, her middle-class dad leads a closeted gay life, consumed by a debilitating fear that his secret will be discovered. Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, Alison—played by three actresses as a young girl, a teen and an adult—is free to be herself, pursues an artistic career and chronicles her own coming out in print. Says Kelley, “Its themes of sexuality repressed and released are universal. The difference between these two generations is a stark but liberating lesson in the value of personal freedom and the devastating price of prejudice for individuals, for families—for all of us.”

    TheatreWorks has assembled an exciting cast for this production, with actors from across the country who collectively boast credits in television, film, New York and leading regional theatres. The company is led by Moira Stone (Alison), Erin Kommor (Medium Alison), and Lila Gold (Small Alison) appearing as the protagonist at different stages in her life. James Lloyd Reynolds (Bruce, Alison’s father) is a veteran of New York and major regional theatres, as well as television and film, as is Crissy Guerrero (Helen, Alison’s mother).

    Regional pros include Ayelet Firstenberg as Joan, Alison’s college girlfriend and Michael Doppe, playing a panoply of roles. The cast also includes talented youth who are already veterans of local stages: Jack Barrett and Dylan Kento Curtis share the role of Christian, Alison’s older brother; Billy Hutton and Oliver Copaken Yellin share the role of John, Alison’s younger brother. Ruth Keith will stand by as swing for Small Alison.

    “Fun Home” will be presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley through October 28 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View. Tickets ($40–$100) and information available online ( https://theatreworks.org/ ) or by calling 650-463-1960.