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