In the same, small Pennsylvania town
And he was gay, and I was gay
And he killed himself
And I…Became a lesbian cartoonist."
Alison Bechdel's 2006 graphic memoir Fun Home was adapted into a stage musical by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori. It was workshopped from 2009-2013 before premiering Off-Broadway in October 2013 and opening on Broadway in 2015. It is one of the first major musicals to feature a lesbian protagonist.
Like the source material, the musical chronicles Alison's coming-of-age. In her middle age, Alison recalls herself at Age 10 (Small Alison) and in adolescence (Middle Allison) and how she came to terms with her burgeoning sexuality and her complex relationship with her father. In reconciling the two, Alison comes to accept her past.
- Abled in the Adaptation:
- Alison's OCD is cut, despite it being hugely disruptive to her day-to-day life when she was a teenager.
- Joan having a glass eye due to a childhood accident is also cut.
- Abusive Parents: Bruce was very emotionally abusive to his daughter Alison at various points in her childhood.
- Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Alison in the book freely admits that she and her brothers didn't grieve normally when their father died. They instead grinned at each other during the funeral and she laughed while telling a friend. In the book, she has a matter-of-fact approach about analyzing his life. In the musical, Alison is screaming at her dead father, asking if her coming out of the closet spurred his suicide. She also desperately begs for her last memory of him to be more than an awkward conversation.
- Adaptation Distillation: A few things.
- Alison's experiences in New York, both the bicentennial she spent with her family and her early post-undergraduate career, are much less important.
- In a weird way, Regular Alison's captions. In the original graphic memoir, Alison's descriptions of her own life were highly ornate and literary— in the musical, they're comparatively simple.
- Adaptation Expansion: Conversely, Alison's family gets more screen-time, mainly her brothers and mother, so that we see more Character Development. We also get more screentime with Joan, who serves as an Audience Surrogate when Alison receives the phone call and learns about her father having affairs.
- Adaptational Heroism: Helen was a good mother, especially considering she had to run a household with a careless philanderer and three children, but she and Alison had a rockier relationship in real life and in the graphic novel than they do in the musical, which Are You My Mother? details. In the musical, she seems more worried than angry about Alison coming out and openly tells Alison to live her life the way she wants to, and not sacrifice her "days" for someone else or for an ideal.
- Zig-zagged, as Are You My Mother? reveals in its later chapters that Alison believes that Helen "gave her the way out," much in the same way Helen openly expresses these sentiments in the musical. Helen's real-life letters were also very concerned about the effect of Alison's coming-out on Alison herself— however, Are You My Mother? also indicates Helen took years to substantially express any open approval of Alison's choices, much less her lesbianism.
- Adapted Out: As mentioned in Abled in the Adaptation, some important events of Alison's childhood go unmentioned:
- Alison's lengthy experience with OCD is cut, as mentioned above— despite the effect this also had on her record-keeping.
- Despite more appearances from Helen, her community acting career and simultaneous earning of her master's degree are also much less present than they were in the book.
- Adaptational Timespan Change: As mentioned in Plot-Relevant Age-Up, several events in Alison's life are moved from their points both in graphic memoir and from when they occurred in real life. In the musical, Alison enters Oberlin for a full four years as a freshman— while not explicitly discussed in the book, Alison entered Oberlin College as a junior after earning an associate's degree at Bard College at Simon's Rock.
- All Musicals Are Adaptations: Adapted from the graphic novel of the same name by Alison Bechdel.
- Ambiguous Situation: Like in the graphic novel, Alison wonders if her father's death was suicide or an accident, and contends with how she'll never learn the truth.
- Anachronic Order: The story jumps back and forth between different periods of Alison's life as she deconstructs her relationship with her father and her sexuality. The musical makes this even clearer than the book, as there are three actresses to represent Alison during various periods of her life, and their scenes are jumbled up in order with the oldest Alison commenting on them all.
- Anaphora: "Welcome To The House On Maple Avenue:" He wants-! He wants-! He wants-!
- Ascended Extra: Joan gets far more to do in the musical than she does in the book, though she's still not exactly a "main" character.
- Book Ends: Likewise, the musical adaptation begins and ends on the memory of Bruce playing airplane with her.
- Bleached Underpants: Downplayed. While "Changing My Major" and other scenes explicitly discuss Alison and Joan's sexual experiences with one another while dating, the musical of course removes the outright depiction of sex that were present in the graphic novel.
- BSoD Song: "Edges of the World" for Bruce in the musical, which depicts his last thoughts before his suicide.
- Boyish Short Hair: Alison as an adult and teen wears her hair this way. Lampshaded by Small Alison in the book and musical.
- Coming-Out Story: Alison comes to terms with her sexuality over the course of the musical.
- Composite Character: Sort-of. In most cases it's more that pieces of Alison's life outside of the book are added on.
- Roy retains his book (and real life) position as the Bechdel babysitter and target of Bruce's affections, but also absorbs elements of the other similarly aged (and sometimes underaged) boys Bruce would have encounters with.
- Helen not only gains the above mentioned Adaptational Heroism, but also seems to gain aspects of her real life character that were only ever really explored in Are You My Mother? rather than Fun Home— such as giving Alison "the way out" of a life of regrets.
- Regular Alison, of course, exists in real life as illustrator Alison Bechdel. But Regular Alison didn't exist as a narrative device in the original book— in some ways, her meta commentary and self-deconstructive thoughts on her own work run closer to the narrative framing of Are You My Mother?, in which a Regular Alison (of-sorts) does appear to discuss the creation of the original Fun Home. Passing bits of Alison's later adulthood that are expressed through Regular Alison in the musical are also pulled from Are You My Mother?.
- Dark Reprise:
Young Allison in Party Dress: I Despise this dress!/ What's the matter with boy shirts and pants/This dress makes me feel like a clown,/I HATE IT!Regular Allison in Telephone Wire: Since like, 5 I guess!/I prefer to wear boy shirts and pants!/I felt absurd in a dress!/I REALLY TRIED TO DENY MY FEELINGS FOR GIRLS!
- Helen Bechdel's "Days and Days" in the musical is a dark reprisal of "Welcome to Our House in Maple Avenue."
- Allison also slightly reprises a line from "Party Dress" that Young!Allison said in the song "Telephone Wire"
- Deuteragonist: Bruce, who's relationship with protagonist Alison is the center of the story. Making this trope more noticeable than in the book is that while Alison's part is split up between three different actresses of different ages, the ostensibly supporting Bruce is played by one actor, being co-leads with the narrating Regular Alison.
- Distant Duet: In the musical, there are moments where Alison finds herself singing across time with her late father.
- Foil: Bruce and Alison, especially in the musical. Both grew up in the same small town, both turned out to be gay. Alison handled it considerably better than Bruce did, at least partially due to going to college in a time period that was rather more accepting of the LGBT community. Consequentially, Alison grows up to be a happy, well-adjusted, openly gay adult, while her father remains closeted his entire life, carries out several affairs in his marriage, and kills himself. To drive the point home in the musical, the two sing many of the same lyrics, with different contexts and meanings. In the book, this is acknowledged by Alison mentioning that an old-fashioned term for gay people was "inverts", and jokes that she liked it because they were like inverted versions of each other.
- Gayngst-Induced Suicide: You can see the contemplation of her closeted gay father's death and its later ruling as suicide. She deals with this during accepting her own homosexuality. It aimed to be a heartwarming family story, but the musical was still nicknamed the "lesbian suicide musical" by its marketing team.
- Hope Spot:
- There are a few moments when it seems like Bruce and Alison might be getting along, before something (usually Bruce himself) messes it up. One notable instance is Bruce trying to help Alison with her map project for school. He encourages her to practice more, and says she has the potential to be a real artist when she grows up... before going all Control Freak and trying to make her do it his way, which understandably upsets her. Bruce then gets upset about Alison getting upset, and the whole thing ends with Bruce storming off, and Alison hurt and confused.
- In the musical, the scene just before "Telephone Wire" counts. Bruce is glad to see Alison, and seems to be getting along well with her new girlfriend Joan, Joan even helping him clean. He and Alison play a duet together on the piano and go for a drive together. The whole thing is painful for adult Alison to watch, since she knows it's the last time she saw her father before he killed himself, and they never fully bridged the gap between them.
- Imagine Spot: "Raincoat of Love" in the musical is Small Alison fantasizing about what she wishes her family was like.
- Ironic Echo: "I might still break a heart or two..."
- It's All About Me: It's very telling that two of the most prominent lyrics associated with Bruce in the musical are "He wants" and "I want."
- "I Want" Song: "Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue" is a "He [Bruce] wants" song. Then a more subtle straight example in "Ring of Keys," when young Alison, while having trouble articulating it, realizes she wants to be like the butch delivery woman.
- Leitmotif: Small Allison, Middle Allison and Regular Allison have a specific chord that is played in a song or dialouge bit that involves them. Depending on the version of Allison, it's either played by a piano, violin or clarinet, a mix of one or the other or all 3.
- Milestone Birthday Angst: Alison decides to start digging into her past to create the memoir specifically because she is now the same age her father was when he died (43)."There's you
And there's me
But now I'm the one who's forty-three
I can't find my way through!
Just like you
Am I just like you?"
- Mood Whiplash: Before the heartbreaking "Telephone Wire," which features Alison's last conversation with her father, she finds out how he made Joan one of the family; by giving her silverware to polish. Joan even sheepishly stops polishing and says her dad was very persuasive.
- The show will often go the other way as well; for instance, it follows up a tense scene where Helen outs Bruce to Al with a cut in from the present where Al pens and then immediately discards several incredibly awkward lines about her newfound life as a lesbian in college.
- Pensieve Flashback: In the musical, Alison watches the show's events with the audience, often walking through the scene and commenting on it, sometimes even speaking directly to the people in them. However, no one from the past can see or hear her.
- Plot-Relevant Age-Up: The events of the play are slightly timeshifted; one particular example is that Alison seeing the Butch Lesbian delivery woman during "Ring of Keys" is played and sung by (at the time) eleven-year old Sydney Lucas; in real life, this happened when Alison was four or five.
- "Shut Up" Kiss: Joan delivers one to Alison in the middle of Alison's worried ramblings, which leads to their first sexual encounter.
- Stepford Smiler: Helen is this in spades. When she breaks down during her Dark Reprise, it's quite heart-breaking when she tells Alison not to repeat her mistakes.
- Another example shows up in Helen's Etude, where both Helen and Little Allison avoid acknowledging Bruce's crappy behavior: Helen with Bruce seducing a guy in their house while she is in earshot (or at least they can hear her playing the piano), and Allison avoiding a fight with her dad about wearing a dress.Maybe not right now. Maybe not right now.
- Another example shows up in Helen's Etude, where both Helen and Little Allison avoid acknowledging Bruce's crappy behavior: Helen with Bruce seducing a guy in their house while she is in earshot (or at least they can hear her playing the piano), and Allison avoiding a fight with her dad about wearing a dress.
- Take That!: A flair for the dramatic While not a song, has Allison calling out her dad to Joan after receiving a reply to her coming out letter believing that he doesn't know anything about what she's going through. Except it's before she finds out that her Dad is gay.
- Unreliable Narrator: Invoked when Alison says that she needs visual references to draw her family because she doesn't trust her memory.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Retroactively, Alison does this to Bruce in the musical when looking back on her childhood and realizing how awful he was at times.