On September 4th 2016 I got up at 5am to travel to Heathrow. Normally 5am is not a particularly enjoyable time to wake up but this time it was completely acceptable as it meant in 12 hours I’d be in New York! Not only was this my first time to America, and outside of Europe, but it was also my first solo flight which was mildly terrifying especially as an 18 year old who isn’t the biggest fan of flying. I spent the entirety of the flight attempting to sleep and failing miserably, however, I managed to avoid jetlag almost entirely.
The purpose of my trip was to see Fun Home in its final week of performances on Broadway, and the outcome was even more successful than I’d planned! After my arrival at around noon on Sunday, I travelled from JFK to Grand Central station to meet up with my friend Christina who was letting me stay with her during my trip. As soon as we met we headed off into the city to visit the Circle in the Square theatre (the theatre in which Fun Home was playing until September 10th). However, we got a little distracted and ended up visiting the Shubert theatre (showing Matilda the Musical) and the Richard Rodgers theatre (showing Hamilton) before we made a quick shopping stop at a theatre store to buy matching Fun Home baseball caps, before we got to the Circle in the Square.
We got to the Circle in the Square, and even though it was a Sunday meaning the show wasn’t on and the theatre was shut, I still felt as though I was where I was meant to be. I took pictures of every sign and poster around the theatre no matter how big or small, and made Christina take the picture of me in front of the main entrance (see above). We spent the rest of the day wandering around Times Square before we got the train back to Christina’s house.
On Monday September 5th I spent the morning nearer Christina’s house and we went to Target (it really was as exciting as I thought and hoped it’d be!) and we headed out into Manhattan in the afternoon. We thought we’d try and get some cheap tickets to see Fun Home that evening as Maya Grace Fischbein (the understudy for Small Alison, John, and Christian) was going on as Small Alison. We had entered the online lottery and unfortunately not won, so we decided to head to the theatre to see if the box office had any restricted view or rush tickets available. To our dismay they only had the $160 tickets left. This meant 2 of our plans to see Maya had failed and so we headed towards the TKTS booth in Times Square where they frequently have discounted tickets for a large range of Broadway and Off Broadway shows. Unfortunately, they only had $160 tickets left too and so all three of our plans had failed. Luckily, a miracle happened on that day which resulted in us getting tickets to go and see the show that evening, meaning we’d get to see Maya perform!
Christina and I met up with Maya, Ali, and Cole before the show which was really lovely and we told Maya we were so excited to see her perform! After they had gone inside to prepare for the show we went to get some food before coming back to take our seats. As I descended down the escalator to the merch stand, bar, and auditorium, the excitement for the show began to grow. The first thing I did was to spend a good 5 minutes trying to decide which tshirt to get as I couldn’t afford all of them (sadly). After some very tough decisions I settled for one with the quote “Do you feel my heart saying hi?” from the Small Alison song ‘Ring of Keys’. I chose to put it on straight away over my dress which resulted in me feeling rather warm, but it was worth it.
We took our seats and, after a year of knowing about the show, singing it, loving it, reading the graphic novel, and months of detailed planning for the trip, it finally felt real. I couldn’t quite believe I was sat in the theatre just moments before the show started. I was in awe. The stage was so much smaller than I’d imagined, but just made it feel more intimate and special. The lights dimmed and the orchestra (situated on the stage) began the first song. As soon as I heard those first notes I could feel my eyes filling with tears. The musical that meant so much to me and changed not only my life, but the lives of so many, was beginning and I was seeing it. In person. Not listening to the cast recording. Not watching live performances the cast had done on TV. I was watching it live right in front of me.
Near the start of the first song (It all comes back) there’s a point where the whole cast come out on to the stage. As they all appeared I felt a burst of emotion. All of these actors whom I followed on social media and interacted with, who I’d listened to sing the songs on repeat on the cast recording were there, right in front of me. It was one of the most surreal, overwhelming, yet comforting moments of my life. As the musical continued I sat there with a variety of emotions on my face, from a huge grin of excitement, to tears of upset and joy. If I were to list every little thing I loved about the show I would end up writing about every individual word and movement made by each character. So instead I’ll keep it to a minimum.
If I had to describe Fun Home in one sentence it would be ‘my home away from home’. With the show featuring Alison through three stages of her life (Small – age 9-14, Medium – age 18-19, and ‘Big’ – age 43), it allows a variety of audience members to find someone they can relate to in the show. As I started university the day after returning from New York, I felt that Medium Alison (although more so Joan) really spoke to me. Whenever Emily Skeggs (Medium Alison) and Roberta Colindrez (Joan) were on stage, I felt like I was there, like that could happen to me. Their scenes together were so real and the way they played their characters could not have been better. I felt proud to see these two women represent people like me. I felt safe.
Before I knew it, Maya was already singing ‘Ring of Keys’ and my eyes were streaming. Her portrayal of Small Alison during this song was so passionate and intense. You could see the love she had for the character and all the emotion she put into singing it was so real. I felt at that moment in time as though I’d never stop crying (I’m not sure I ever did). As the show continued I got more emotional and more attached to each character and actor than ever before. In what felt like no time at all, Beth Malone (Alison) was on stage to start the finale ‘Flying Away’. I didn’t stop crying (silently) the entire song. Not only did the song make me tear up due to the beautiful harmonies and lyrics (By Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron) but it also marked the end of the show. A show I had waited months and months to see, a show I had travelled half way around the world to see, was coming to an end. It was even more perfect than I could ever have hoped it would have been. I spent the applause clapping and crying (this time not so silently) before heading out of the theatre.
After I’d composed myself, Christina and I headed to the stage door. On Broadway stage doors are so much more organised than in England to the point where each cast member has their own sharpie! We stood around with all the other fans at stage door waiting to see which cast member would exit the theatre first. I was lucky enough to meet, and chat to, all the cast that had been on during the show other than Judy Kuhn (Helen Bechdel). Each and every cast member was so incredibly kind and down to earth. They stopped to chat with each person, would take selfies, sign playbills, and give hugs if requested. This meant I had the opportunity to thank each of them individually (especially Roberta, Beth, and Emily) for their roles and the impact they’d had on my life. I also got the chance to chat to Maya again congratulating her on the incredible performance.
After the cast and all the audience waiting had left, Christina and I headed back to her house, trying to work out if what had just happened had really happened and it wasn’t all just a dream. It had. The show had made me even more excited for my Wednesday matinee visit.
On Wednesday Alessandra Baldacchino was playing the role of Small Alison. Due to it being the last week it meant that Maya, Ali, and Gabby (Small Alison) all had the chance to perform but it meant I missed out on seeing Gabby. Our seats for this show were up behind the orchestra which meant we had a completely different view from the first time. It was exciting to see it all over again but from a different perspective. I got to see different expressions, gestures, prop uses, entrances, exits, the lot. It allowed me to take in details that I hadn’t previously.
By the time it got to Ali’s ‘Ring of Keys’ I had kept it together as I knew what to expect from the show this time around. Ali’s portrayal of Small Alison was something else entirely. The care and love she put in to the character, and her gentle but powerful voice, made the overall performance so believable and honest. Nothing seemed forced, nothing seemed wrong, everything was right.
As the end of the show drew in, the tears started coming. As soon as Beth came on for ‘This is what I have of you’ I began to cry, and did so until I was waiting at the stage door after it had finished. This time, not only was I crying due to the content of the show, but it was the last time I would ever get to see the show. I was so grateful to have seen it twice, but so desperately upset for it to be over, knowing I would never see any of the cast in their roles at that theatre again.
I got to the stage door still in tears and whilst looking around to see who was there I saw Alison Bechdel (nicknamed TRAB by the cast) and I couldn’t quite tell if my eyes were deceiving me or not. The woman who’s life this show was about, who’s book this show was based on, was right there. And then before I had time to take in what had just happened, Emily Skeggs was already there signing people’s playbills and chatting to them. I got ready for her and by the time she got to me I was slightly more composed and managed to say something along the lines of ‘thank you so much for medium alison’ although it probably wasn’t said as clearly as that. When Roberta Colindrez came out I made sure Christina had her camera ready so she could take a photo of our hug. I had a thank you card for Roberta as I knew that I wouldn’t be able to form sentences, let alone say everything I wanted to her. Meeting Roberta was one of the most validating and happy things to happen to me. I got to see someone like me, doing something she loved, in a show that was so important. It made me feel like I could do anything no matter what the circumstances, because she had, so why couldn’t I?
I left the theatre, so incredibly overwhelmed by what had just happened, sad that I was really leaving, and overjoyed that I’d had the privilege of seeing the show twice. I will never be able to thank the cast or crew enough for the show they created and performed until September 10th 2016, and it’ll be sorely missed by so so many, myself included.
Thank you Beth, Emily, Ali, Maya, Roberta, Michael, Judy, Joel, Cole, and Zell for making my visits to Maple Avenue so incredibly special, and to Kally, Lauren, Sydney, Oscar, Gabby, Presley, Nicole, Rebecca, Perry, and Jim for being part of the incredible Broadway cast and making the Fun Home even more fun!
Thank you, and happy trails!