Amy Herzberg, TheatreSquared co-founder and "Fun Home" director, knows the exact moment she decided that the exuberant musical -- adapted from Alison Bechdel's 2006 prize-winning, best-selling autobiographical graphic novel of the same name -- would be a perfect choice for T2's season 12 opener.
"We were in New York for some design meetings for the new theater, and our wonderful theater consultants said, 'This is a show you've got to see,' and they got us tickets," remembers Herzberg. T2 broke ground on June 23 for the new theater building at the corner of Spring and West streets in downtown Fayetteville. The building will open for the 2019 season. "As the house lights were rising at the end -- I think I actually beat the house lights -- I turned to Bob [Ford, T2 co-founder and artistic director ] and Martin [Miller, T2 executive director ], and I said, 'We'll be doing this, and I'll be directing.' It's the perfect show, and it fits perfectly with our theater's mission statement, which is that 'theater -- done well and with passion -- can transform lives and communities.'"
WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 2 & 7 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 17
WHERE — Nadine Baum Studios in Fayetteville
COST — $17-$48
INFO — 443-5600 or theatre2.org
"Fun Home" opened on Broadway in 2015, was nominated for 12 Tony Awards and won five (including Best Musical) and was a Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist. Anthony Tommasini, music critic for The New York Times, called Jeanine Tesori's score a "masterpiece." The musical hews closely to the graphic novel, recounting Alison Bechdel's coming-of-age story -- in which she grapples with her relationship with her father, as well as her sexual identity -- through a non-linear series of flashbacks.
Actor Robert Sutton has the difficult role of Bruce Bechdel, Alison's father -- a character whose behavior can fluctuate between tyrannical and tender. Sutton says he thinks audiences of all stripes and backgrounds will find something with which to relate in the story.
"It may be easy to say, 'Lesbian cartoonist? I can't relate,'" he says. "But this is about so much more than that aspect. It's about family dynamics, relationships, secrets, what living in denial of your own truth can do to your health, your relationships, your well-being, your trajectory in life -- constantly avoiding the Truth with a capital 'T' -- that's what this is about. And I think that's really relatable."
"There are all these quotes that I thought were so applicable from Alison Bechdel, and the one that we have come back to, repeatedly, is, 'What would happen if we just told the truth?'" says Herzberg. "I do think it's about that."
The cast includes three children who perform one of the score's most lively numbers, the Jackson 5-esque "Come to the Fun Home," a "commercial" that the kids write about their family-run funeral home business. A critical part in the musical is Small Alison, played by 11-year-old Autumn Rae Shannon. Herzberg says she knew the role was integral to the success of the show, and she went in search of her young star by looking at YouTube videos of young actors singing "Ring of Keys," Small Alison's show-stopping song where she recognizes something of herself in a female delivery driver.
Small Alison's brothers are played by homegrown Fayetteville talents Alexander and Nikolai Margulis who, Herzberg says, she has known since they were babies.
"When I heard that they wanted to audition, I wanted to do everything I could to set it up so they wouldn't feel bad if it didn't work out," says Herzberg. "And then they auditioned, and [musical director] Jason [Burrow] and I were like -- " Herzberg makes a strangled, happily astonished sound. "We were so excited! I wasn't expecting anything like I saw. They were amazing."
Another face familiar to Northwest Arkansas is Sutton's, whose gorgeous baritone first appeared on stage in Fayetteville in the University of Arkansas' 1991 production of "The Cradle Will Rock," directed by Herzberg. The two would go on to collaborate on other musicals including "Guys and Dolls" and "Into the Woods," until Sutton set off for a career that took him to locales like New York -- where he understudied and performed the roles of Beast and Gaston on Broadway in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" -- and Las Vegas, where he starred as Sam Carmichael in the Las Vegas company of "Mamma Mia!" He last collaborated with Herzberg for the T2 production of "Next to Normal."
Sutton says Herzberg's ability to go the extra mile in choosing her casts is part of the magic she creates on stage.
"The minute I got here, I said, 'We all know casting the right actor has been one of your many, many amazing strengths, but what people don't realize is that you go beyond that to cast the right people -- not just the right actor, but the right people," he says. "So instantaneously, we are family when we walk into that room, because of her sixth sense, her instinct."
NAN What's Up on 08/25/2017
Print Headline: 'The Perfect Show'