We think of Broadway as being a pretty gay place, but most musicals, even today, follow a rather heterosexual formula, with a straight couple at the center of the action and maybe some peripheral gay couples. Rarely do you see a musical with a gay main character. In fact, the first mainstream musical to feature a lesbian protagonist only came into being a few years ago. In addition to securing its place in history for that, Fun Home won the Tony for Best Musical and has been widely beloved by audiences. Now on its first national tour, Fun Home is heading to Providence Performing Arts Center.
Based on lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s coming-of-age graphic memoir, Fun Home relays the story of Bechdel’s upbringing, growing up with a closeted gay father and discovering her own sexuality. It focuses on three stages in her life: her childhood, in which she deals with her father’s overbearing perfectionism; her first year of college, in which she begins to explore her sexuality; and her adulthood, in which she’s reflecting on these while writing her memoir. In order to accomplish this, there are three actresses portraying Alison: small Alison, medium Alison and adult Alison. On the tour, medium Alison is played by Abby Corrigan, who landed the role fresh out of high school – no, that’s not a misprint: she’s only 19 years old. This is her first professional gig, and she says it’s “the best thing that’s ever happened” to her.
“It’s really opened my heart and eyes to what I want to do.” Corrigan went to a performing arts high school, where she played such roles as the Emcee in Cabaret, Natalie in Next to Normal and Fiona in Shrek the Musical, for which she won a Blumey award, the Tony-equivalent for Charlotte, NC, high school students. Now, while her peers are attending college, she’s pretending to be a college student on stage for eight shows a week in a new city every few weeks.
Being an actress has always come naturally to Corrigan, and it’s no wonder, considering both of her parents are in show business, though they unsuccessfully tried to steer her away from acting. “It’s just what I was,” she recalls. “When I played pretend as a child, my friends were pretending to be lions, but I was the lion.”
Her biggest inspiration through it all has been her twin sister, who has Down syndrome. “She’s my best teacher, whether for acting or for empathy.”
Now over a year into the tour, though she’s been playing the same role for so long, she still feels like she’s learning. “Now I feel like I know Alison really well, and I’m still getting to know her.”
Corrigan first saw Fun Home after her first audition, and she describes the show as “just so brilliant, and told so well. I had never seen a musical like it… I am looking for another Fun Home, but I haven’t found it.”
Fun Home opens Nov 7 and runs through Nov 12 at PPAC. For tickets, visit ppacri.org.