Out cartoonist’s best-selling memoir becomes acclaimed musical

Broadway Philadelphia is bringing Tony Award-winning musical “Fun Home” to town next week at Forrest Theatre.

Based on the best-selling and critically lauded graphic memoir by cartoonist Alison Bechdel (“Dykes to Watch Out For”), “Fun Home” is centered on three different stages of the author’s life. The protagonist relives and tries to unravel the layers of her strained relationship with her late father, who was emotionally distant, sometimes abusive and secretly closeted.

Actor, activist and former Miss America Kate Shindle said she saw the play on Broadway last year, which motivated her to audition for the role of Alison in the touring production.

“It really haunted me for a couple days afterwards,” she said. “It’s that kind of story. It takes a lot — especially at a certain point when you’re not just starting out in your career — to get an actor to go out on tour. And this checked all the boxes.

“It’s a fantastic story,” Shindle continued. “It tells a story that is important right now at this particular cultural moment: Recognizing and owning your own identity is a really important thing. When people do that, it can be life-affirming. And when people don’t feel like they are able and allowed to do that, really bad things can happen. Obviously, that has a context in a story that has to do with coming out and the main character’s relationship to her father. But it applies to all different kinds of people in all different kinds of ways.”

Shindle said she hadn’t read the book before seeing the show, but noted it isn’t necessary to fully enjoy the musical.

“It’s a different experience but in a great way,” she said about the differences between the book and stage production. “I call it a show sometimes and sometimes I call it a play because to me it seems more like a play than a musical. It’s a pretty masterful adaptation. If you are familiar with ‘Fun Home,’ it might not be the first thing you think of when you go, ‘We should make a Broadway musical.’ ‘Fun Home’ is not the no-brainer choice for that. But they took this story, the graphic memoir, and really did a translation of it for the stage so that it’s a dramatically structured stage-worthy piece. I’m a fan of both. They both exist very well individually. They complement each other.”

While “Fun Home” treads some emotionally heavy territory, Shindle said it does strike a perfect balance between heavy and light moments. That keeps the overall tone of the production uplifting, she said.

“I don’t ever leave the stage in this show,” she said. “It’s one act, 100 minutes and I’m in all of them. There are a lot of moments where Alison is watching her younger self and reliving those memories. It demands a special kind of focus in comparison to other things that I have done, to not only be emotionally present but also strike the right tone. One of the reasons I was drawn to this is, that’s how life is. Sometimes you can be as angry as you have ever been and five minutes later you are laughing. The kind of show that tells that story of humanity and the sometimes-ridiculous ways in which we interact about serious things is the kind of show I want to be a part of.”

Broadway Philadelphia presents “Fun Home” June 13-18 at Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut St. For more information or tickets, call 215-893-1999.