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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Finding Your Fun

THE MUSICAL “FUN HOME” got its start as a graphic coming-of-age novel by Alison Bechdel, and, with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, it had a five-year development that led to an Off-Broadway debut in 2013. It moved to Broadway in 2015 with much of its original cast, and ran for nearly 600 performances.

Susan Moniz
“This is such a unique piece,” says Susan Moniz, who plays the role of Alison’s mother in the national tour. “I have an incredible amount of love and respect for this piece of theater. It’s so beautifully crafted that you can’t help but love doing it, because it’s such a beautiful show and because of the responses it gets from people – how it touches people.”

The tour has been traveling around the country for a year. “A full year,” says Moniz. “We opened in Cleveland last October.” She spoke last week from Boston, and the tour arrives at Proctors in Schenectady on Oct. 31, playing eight performances through Nov. 5. (Here’s ticket info.)

Moniz notes that it does get tiring living out of hotel rooms, “but it’s been wonderful being able to visit everywhere. I’d never been to Seattle and had friends there to visit. I visited friends in L.A., and I haven’t been in Boston in years. Right now we’re doing a lot of one-weekers, so you have to prioritize your sight-seeing a little more. You try to get a little flavor of every city. It’s what makes it fun.”

Stepping freshly into a role just created by someone else can be a challenge, “but we were given so much freedom,” she says. “We were able to have the original production people: Sam Gold, the original director, came in and directed us, and Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron were there, too. And they were able to guide us to a wonderful direction for the show and also give us the freedom to make it our own, so you never felt hemmed in by someone else’s performance.”

“Fun Home” tells the story of Bechdel’s childhood in rural Pennsylvania, and the challenge of coming out as a lesbian even as her father reveals his own homosexual past. The novel has been pulled from a few schools and library shelves, but the touring musical has been very well received. “In San Francisco, we had off-the-charts reactions,” Moniz says. “When we were in Nashville, it was a little more conservative. You have some people who really know the show and are thrilled to finally see it, and you have some people who are still absorbing what they just saw. We’ve never had what I’d say is a bad audience.”

Moniz was born and raised in Rhode Island, and found herself drawn to theater from an early age, “even though I was incredibly shy as a child. I would direct my siblings in the backyard with their friends, but I wouldn’t be in it. I wanted to, but I didn’t have the courage. Once I hit high school, I finally took the opportunity, and I loved it. It was where I found home. Where I felt much more comfortable and happy.” She performed in school shows and community theater, but began Rhode Island College as an art major, “because I thought that was the smarter choice. But that didn’t last very long, and I ended up pursuing theater.”

Kate Shindle, Abby Corrigan, and Carly Gold in Fun Home
Photo by Joan Marcus

Shortly after she graduated she moved to Chicago, where she has become a fixture on that city’s professional theater scene. “It’s a great theater town. Other than the cold weather, I love it. I got my Equity card there when I was 23, at the Marriott Theater, in ‘The King and I.’”

She has appeared on Broadway in “Grease,” and among her many Chicago-area credits are the musicals “Follies,” “The Wiz,” “West Side Story, “ ”Romance/Romance,” “Showboat,” “Carousel,” “Anna Karenina,” “Kismet,” “Peggy Sue Got Married,” “Into the Woods,” “Oklahoma!,” and “October Sky.” She says she didn’t set out to specialize in musicals, “but it’s one of those things that fell into place. I do straight theater as well, but when someone offers you a job, you take the path of least resistence. So I’ve done the majority of my work in musicals.”

She has a side-business that was born in theater, “because I always loved to bake and I’d make special cookies for opening nights. So I make cookie molds. I don’t make the actual cookies, although I do it for friends and family, but I create custom and unique designs. They’re fun. I have a great time.” You can see her work at her website. “This gives me a lot of joy, because it goes back to my art years – so I said why not? Let’s see where it goes.

But her favorite pursuit is performing in new works, like “Fun Home.” “That’s more exciting, I think, than anything else. To create something new, and discover it for the first time. That’s what really gets the creative juices flowing.”

Fun Home” will be performed at Proctors in Schenectady at 7:30 PM Oct. 31 and Nov. 1; 8 PM Nov 2, 3, and 4; 1:30 PM Nov. 2; and 2 PM Nov. 4 and 5.

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