On April 14, it was announced that the musical Fun Home had been named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. After a triumphant off-Broadway run, the show is now Broadway bound. But the graphic novel it's based on is under attack by the South Carolina state legislature, so creator Alison Bechdel and the cast of the New York City show are volunteering to bring the musical to Charleston before it opens in New York.
The book Fun Home recounts Bechdel's childhood with a closeted gay father, who was an English teacher and owner of a funeral home; the trial he faced over his dealings with young boys; his possible suicide; and her own coming out as a lesbian. It was the selected title for the College Reads! program the the College of Charleston and made available to all of 2013's incoming freshman.
In February, some lawmakers took issue with the book, and the S.C. House budget committee moved to withdraw $52,000 of school funding, the total cost of the summer reading program.
The censorship controversy flared, prompting acrimony on both sides and concern from supporters of academic freedom.
State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, an outspoken opponent of Fun Home being selected for the freshman reading program, said that he has heard about the play and believes it is a direct response to the House's decision to cut funds due to the college's controversial summer reading choice.
That "protest" move is not wise, Grooms said, and he plans to bring it up as the Senate debates this year's budget. "If lessons weren't learned over there, the Senate may speak a little bit louder than the House. There would be a number of members in the Senate that would have a great interest in fixing the deficiencies at the College of Charleston," Grooms said.
He declined to say specifically what action or cuts he had planned.
The show will be presented in concert format and include the original cast: Tony Award-winner Michael Cerveris as Bechdel's father, and three-time Tony Award-nominee Judy Kuhn as her mother.
The event is "an incredible academic opportunity for our students and the chance for our community to see off-Broadway stars sing inventive and complex works from a popular musical fresh from the New York stage," said Todd McNerney, chairman of the Department of Theatre and Dance, in a statement.
Kron, Tesori, Bechdel and musical director Chris Fenwick will be in attendance, giving students "the added bonus of interaction with major theatrical and writing professionals," he said. Two students will serve as production assistants and theater and dance majors can observe the rehearsal.
Lynne Ford, associate provost for curriculum and a member of the College Reads! committee, said the show is a natural follow-up to the campus visit paid by Bechdel in October. That visit was "incredibly productive," she said, "there was no controversy at all."
But when Rep. Garry Smith, R-Simpsonville, and others began to protest use of the book, the college community decided to respond.
"We started thinking about what else we could do here," Ford said. "The theater department reached out to see if we could get rights to do the show in fall." But it's on the way to Broadway, so that was impossible.
Instead, Bechdel and those involved in the production offered to bring it to Charleston.
"It's their own way of making a statement," Ford said. "I just can't imagine a greater outcome."
But Ford hastened to add that this should not be interpreted as retribution for legislative meddling. Instead, this provides an important educational opportunity for students who can view an acclaimed musical, consider its important themes and interact with its cast and crew, she said.
Still, "it's true (that) without the Legislature's punishment we wouldn't have this incredible opportunity for students and the college," she said.
No state funds are being used for the performances. All four children of Sam and Regina Greene voted to contribute $7,500 to the effort from their parents' fund with the Community Foundation.
"The Sam and Regina Greene Fund at the Community Foundation was set up by my parents, Holocaust survivors, to fund educational and other activities to teach about the Holocaust and to prevent similar events from happening," wrote Harlan Greene in an email. "The sort of hate and discrimination voiced by many in this state about gay books and the gay 'lifestyle' mirrors the same type of rhetoric that was voiced in those events that led to the events now known as the Holocaust, where gays were among those singled out for destruction."