The Tony Awards teased composer Jeanine Tesori in 2009 with a nomination for her work on “Shrek the Musical,” but it was another six years before she (with playwright Lisa Kron) won Broadway’s top honor, for “Fun Home,” the melancholic musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel that appears early this month at Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
Based on Bechdel’s own past, “Fun Home” follows, from childhood through college, the daughter of a closeted gay suicidal part-time mortician. For Tesori, a veteran of Broadway revivals like “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “The Sound of Music,” Bechdel’s moody black-and-white panels presented a mind-bending musical theater challenge. Tesori gave Coast the low-down on the difficulties of taking “Fun Home” from the page to the stage, women on Broadway and lessons from Louis C.K.
Coast: Have you been on the road with the touring cast? How is it different?
JT: We rehearsed in New York, and I rehearsed closely with them. We were all together in Cleveland. I’ve seen it three other times in three other cities. The great thing about it was no one from the original cast was on the road, which means we could see how it plays. We’ve never seen anyone but Beth Malone carry the bulk of the performances, and it was beautiful to watch Kate Shindle take it, make it her own. It’s completely the same character through a completely different filter. She looks very different, she holds herself differently, and that was quite wonderful to see because that means that many people can play that role. It’s not so tied to one actor.
Coast: What sort of responsibility comes with adapting something based on real people?
JT: It’s a family’s life. At the heart of it is the story of a daughter and a father and family, and they’re still alive and they’re being represented on the stage. It’s a complicated story to reveal. We never lost sight of the fact this is a family from a town.
Coast: I understand it was not easy to adapt.
JT: I knew it was a great idea, but I knew that it was going to be a huge challenge because of the complexity of the book. The way a book operates and a graphic novel operates are very different. The way that it’s organized, it’s not linear. What do you leave off? What do you not put in the show? All the things you leave behind. That’s why when I said yes, I thought, ugh!
Coast: The show was originally designed for an intimate theater but is now playing in…