An un­con­ven­tional mu­si­cal strikes chord

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Steven Zeitchik

NEW YORK — The mu­si­cal “Fun Home” fol­lows the graphic nov­el­ist Alison Bechdel as she goes from an un­cer­tain child­hood in a small-town fu­neral home to a ca­reer as a highly suc­cess­ful les­bian au­thor and artist.

The show con­cluded a sim­i­larly tri­umphant jour­ney at the Tony Awards on Sun­day night. An off­beat pro­duc­tion born at the Ojai Play­wrights Con­fer­ence and the Sun­dance Theatre Lab, “Fun Home” swept to five awards, in­clud­ing best mu­si­cal, the Tonys’ top honor.

“Cre­at­ing a Broad­way mu­si­cal means years of ask­ing your­self, ‘Will this ever hap­pen?’ ” said Lisa Kron, who wrote the show’s book and lyrics. She added, in a ref­er­ence to a col­le­giate theme from the show, “You have changed our ma­jor to ‘mir­a­cle.’ ”

“Home,” which opened at New York’s down­town Public Theater in 2013 be­fore mov­ing to Broad­way this sea­son, also won prizes for di­rec­tion, score, book and lead ac­tor in a mu­si­cal.

It was a sim­i­larly strong night at the Tonys — Broad­way’s high­est hon­ors, held at Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall — for “The Cu­ri­ous In­ci­dent of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which won five awards, in­clud­ing best play.

The Olivier Award-win­ning Bri­tish im­port, which of­fers a look into the mind of an autis­tic young man, also landed the direc­tor award for Mar­i­anne El­liott and lead ac­tor in a play for Alex

Sharp. El­liott was a co-win­ner for “War Horse” in 2011. Sharp, on the other hand, had never had a pro­fes­sional act­ing role be­fore.

“This time last year I picked up my di­ploma grad­u­at­ing from Juil­liard, so to be hold­ing this is in­sane,” Sharp said in ac­cept­ing the prize. “Cu­ri­ous In­ci­dent” is the rare pro­duc­tion to take a young per­son’s point of view. Upon win­ning the Tony for best play, writer Simon Stephens said, “This play is writ­ten so my three chil­dren ... can fi­nally go and see what their dad did for a living.”

The 69th Tonys were hosted by mu­si­cal vet­er­ans Alan Cum­ming and Kristin Chenoweth. It was a show that brought out nu­mer­ous Hol­ly­wood stars: Vanessa Hud­gens per­formed, Sting pre­sented and Bradley Cooper both pre­sented and was nom­i­nated. Har­vey We­in­stein had his mo­ment too — the “Find­ing Nev­er­land” pro­ducer was given a TV cut­away early in the show, and “Nev­er­land” was one of two shows to be given a mu­si­cal num­ber de­spite an ab­sence of Tony nods.

But the Tonys also hewed closely to the theater world, both with Cum­ming and Chenoweth’s bits and with a coro­na­tion of sorts for one of the tight-knit group’s fa­vorite daugh­ters: Kelli O’Hara.

O’Hara had been nom­i­nated for a Tony five pre­vi­ous times — in­clud­ing as re­cently as last year — and fi­nally won a Tony upon her sixth nom­i­na­tion. She landed lead actress in a mu­si­cal hon­ors for her role as Anna in the re­vival of “The King and I.”

“I don’t need this, but now that I have it I’ve got some things to say,” she joked in her ac­cep­tance speech, then con­cluded with “I’ll be back, maybe not up here but on the theater stage,” be­fore danc­ing off to some of the loud­est cheers of the night.

The event saw some other fa­vorites earn their Tony stripes, in­clud­ing He­len Mir­ren, who won lead actress in a play for her role as Queen El­iz­a­beth II in the Peter Mor­gan-penned his­tor­i­cal drama “The Au­di­ence.” It was also her first Tony. “The foun­da­tion upon which I stand is built on an el­e­gant and f leet play,” said Mir­ren, who won for play­ing the same char­ac­ter that notched her an Os­car in 2007 with “The Queen.”

Re­vival of a play hon­ors went to David Hare’s twohan­der “Sky­light,” while the mu­si­cal re­vival Tony was given to “The King and I.”

But it was “Fun Home” that en­joyed the most time in the lime­light Sun­day.

The show cen­ters on a young Bechdel — on whose graphic novel the pro­duc­tion is based — com­ing to terms with her sex­u­al­ity while also living with a fa­ther who is a clos­eted gay man.

Bechdel said she was sur­prised at the suc­cess of both the book and the the play. “It’s a very per­sonal story. I wasn’t telling that story for any­one but my­self,” she told re­porters af­ter the Tonys.

The show’s mul­ti­ple wins con­tinue a boom­let for more in­ti­mate shows in the his­tor­i­cally splashy orig­i­nal mu­si­cal cat­e­gory, fol­low­ing big wins for “Once” in 2012 and, in a some­what dif­fer­ent vein, the par­lor com­edy of “The Gen­tle­men’s Guide to Love & Mur­der” last year. “Fun Home” be­came the first pro­duc­tion to play at the small theater-in-the-round venue Cir­cle In the Square to win best mu­si­cal.

The show’s Sam Gold was also a sur­prise win­ner for direc­tor, tak­ing the prize over Christo­pher Wheeldon, whose “An Amer­i­can in Paris” was also a mu­si­cal fron­trun­ner. Un­der­scor­ing the night “Fun Home” was hav- ing, Gold said in his ac­cep­tance speech that the show’s au­thors were still “back­stage [in the win­ner’s press room] so they’re go­ing to have to watch this on YouTube later.”

“Fun Home’s” Michael Cerveris also staged an up­set in nab­bing the prize for lead ac­tor in a mu­si­cal over Brian d’Arcy James of meta­mu­si­cal romp “Some­thing Rot­ten!” (Cerveris plays the lead char­ac­ter’s clos­eted fa­ther.) He gave a spir­ited speech in which he shouted out the New Or­leans “who dat” phrase and also ex­horted the Supreme Court to rule in fa­vor of gay mar­riage.

“Home’s” Jea­nine Te­sori and Kron landed score hon­ors, with Kron also win­ning for book.

At a time when Hol­ly­wood has come un­der fire for a lack of fe­male film di­rec­tors, it was a strong night for women at the Tonys.

El­liott, the direc­tor of “Cu­ri­ous In­ci­dent,” said she never imag­ined di­rect­ing a play when she was first get­ting into theater. “I as­sumed you had to be a man,” she said. “It’s get­ting bet­ter in Bri­tain now,” she added, “but it’s still quite un­usual.”

Theo Wargo

SYD­NEY LU­CAS, play­ing young Alison Bechdel, sings “Ring of Keys” from “Fun Home” on Sun­day night at the Tony Awards at Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall in New York.

Theo Wargo Getty Images

ROBERT FAIRCHILD and Leanne Cope, nom­i­nees for their per­for­mances in the mu­si­cal “An Amer­i­can in Paris,” dance a num­ber on­stage Sun­day.

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