Monmouth University’s Department of Music and Theater Arts is producing its fall production of the musical Fun Home, which is set to debut on Friday, Nov. 11.
Fun Home is a musical adaptation of the autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. The graphic novel, and now play, is a coming-of-age story that is centered around Alison’s discovery of her sexuality, in addition to the existing pressure from her strained relationship with her father, Bruce.
Tim Pakrad, sophomore English student and Fun Home cast member, described the storylines present within the play. He said, “The play is a dual narrative between Alison and her father, following Alison from childhood to adulthood.”
Jill Bodiford, a sophomore studying elementary education and music theater, was cast as one of the Alisons in the show, meaning that she will play Alison at a certain point in the author’s life.
Bodiford explained the degree of preparation that goes into such a production. She started, “Auditions for the play commenced about three weeks into the school year, and actors received the cast list shortly after.”
Upon picking the final members of the cast, basic music, dance, and staging rehearsals were scheduled up until the middle of October. According to Bodiford, as of late, all actors have to practice completely off-book, or script.
Bodiford noted the importance of everyone being on the same page. “If one person does not know their lines, it throws everyone off. If one person doesn’t know the choreography, it will affect everyone,” she said.
Both Bodiford and Pakrad emphasized a focus on practicing the play’s music. This show, unlike many classic musical theater pieces, contains mostly ballads and emotional songs in contrast to the commonly-found huge, theatrical dance performances.
Likewise, the themes laced throughout the show are heavy, including scenes of infidelity and suicide. As a result, cast members have taken several measures to emotionally prepare themselves for embodying the show’s intended vision.
“This play is different from my previous performances in that it’s not physical stamina I need to develop; rather, it’s emotional stamina,” expanded Bodiford. “The production team is prioritizing the mental well-being of the cast because of the dark material presented in the play.” Bodiford said the department went as far as to make Squishmallows and stress balls readily available on set for cast members to enjoy.
Fun Home’s subject matter has garnered criticism from all over the country, as the book and play are censored across many schools. Bodiford attributed Monmouth’s courage to show such a play to its director, Sheri Anderson, Specialist Professor for the Departments of Music and Theatre Arts.
“Monmouth is so lucky because our director, Sheri Anderson, loves to do shows that have an underlying message with raunchy, controversial topics,” shared Bodiford. In March 2022, the Department of Music and Theater Arts held its production of Cabaret, a musical set on the cusp of 1930’s Nazi Germany.
Pakrad chimed in, saying, “I am grateful for the opportunity to perform [Fun Home] without any restrictions…It would be unfair to censor this material, not only for the integrity of the play but the audience.”
Regardless of the skeptics and controversy surrounding Fun Home, the show’s reviews are largely positive. Debbie Zhou, a musical theater critic from The Guardian, gave the show a four-star rating, underscoring the play’s “balance between captivating charisma and repressed vulnerability.”
Other critics from The Art Fuse have even coined the term, “The Fabulous Fun Home.”
Fun Home will be shown Nov. 11-20 in the Lauren K. Woods Theater at tickets $15 each.
Bodiford predicts that the play will leave a lasting impact on the audience. “This is the type of show that after it’s over, you need to call your loved ones and tell them how much you love them,” she concluded.