Michael Cerveris Fun Home Farewell Photo Diary: Exclusive
Michael Cerveris' 'Fun Home' Farewell
Tony winner Michael Cerveris shares his personal photography from three years spent with Fun Home, the Tony-winning musical based on graphic novelist Alison Bechdel's childhood in a funeral home. As the show closes up shop on Broadway in September, Cerveris, pictured here as Bechdel family patriarch Bruce, offers EW a glimpse into the journey of one of Broadway's brightest success stories.
From the Desk of 'TRAB'
September 2013: Performances start at the Public Theater. The Real Alison Bechdel (whom we dubbed TRAB) brought some of her dad’s ties for me to use in the show. Acts like this were a measure of her generosity and trust, and a reason we came to care so deeply and personally about sharing her family’s story with the world.
Ties That Bind
October 2013: The necktie I tied onstage as Bruce goes to the psychiatrist was Bruce’s own, and it kind of rooted me in the reality of the story every night. The other items were opening night presents from the actual "Fun Home," given by Christian Bechdel for the Off-Broadway premiere. The misprint makes it even better.
For the Record
Dec. 2, 2013: Our original Off-Broadway cast recording session with MC, Judy Kuhn, Joel Perez, Noah Hinsdale, Griffin Birney, Sydney Lucas, Alexandra Socha, and Beth Malone. At this point, we didn’t know whether this was the end of the road or the beginning. And it turned out to be both.
At Home in the World
April 21, 2014: When the South Carolina legislature withdrew funding for the College of Charleston for teaching Alison’s book, we traveled there for a benefit concert performance and discussion. It taught us profound lessons about the importance of putting feet on the ground to stand with a community in distress, and was the beginning of a deep activism on the part of the company. We began advocating for understanding and compassion and using our storytelling to reach far beyond the boundaries of Broadway and New York.
At the Light, At the Light, At the Light
March 2, 2015: Beth Malone, Emily Skeggs, Joel Perez, and I traveled to Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, and spent the night in TRAB’s childhood home. This was the trio I saw in the rearview mirror as I played dad, driving the kids around the circle (described in the song "Maps") that circumscribed Bruce’s life. TRAB and her brother, Christian, gave us the most personal and moving of firsthand tours through the places of their childhood.
Came to the Fun Home
March 2, 2015: It was a melancholy feeling to leave behind the shadows in the Bechdels' ornate Victorian home. So, instead, we brought them with us to inhabit the home we were going to make at Circle in the Square. I think they’ve stayed heaviest with Beth and me. And we’ve been profoundly grateful for each other ever since.
March 2, 2015: Now a B&B, the 'House On Maple Avenue' still contains wallpaper and fixtures Bruce Bechdel installed by hand (with no small amount of child labor from the kids). It was part research trip, part surreal sense memory exploration. We made dinner in the family kitchen, slept and woke in the rooms where the real-life people we were portraying did. This trip had a lot to do with the specificity and detail that made the play feel so truthful for us and, hopefully, for the audience.
March 4, 2015: Staging the show in the round meant finding ourselves in an unusual rehearsal space: the basement of St Paul The Apostle Catholic Church. It also happens to be the occasional rehearsal space for the Rockettes. So, ironies everywhere…
March 17, 2015: We moved into the theater to begin tech — a process in which you practice Zen breathing while all the technical artists refine their wizardry so the actors can later get all the acclaim. Our job in this period is to relax, stay focused, and not get in the wizards’ way. Here, Sydney Lucas and I are either blissfully happy or stressed out and sleep-starved. Since we’re actors, our job is not to let you know which.
Sam I Am
March 27, 2015: Previews begin. Rehearsal and changes continue by day, with performances every night. It’s a crucial period of the process and our director, Sam Gold, earned every bit of this heroic photo. I had admired his work for years and he was a large part of why I signed on for the show. After years of benefitting from his empathetic insight, care-filled guidance, rumpled kindness, good humor, and genuine love of actors telling stories, I’d follow him pretty much anywhere. And I’m pretty sure the rest of our company agree.
April 19, 2015: Opening nights are special times on Broadway. The cast is overwhelmed with flowers, gifts, and well-wishers. We had the benefit of our Off-Broadway run to steady our belief in what we had made together, but there was still the uncertainty of what the commercial Broadway world would make of our little downtown skit. Turns out we didn't need to worry.
Let Them Eat Cake
Spring 2015: I can't remember now whether this cake was for our first preview, opening night, 100th performance or a dozen other milestones. Maybe it's because we have a gaggle of children at all our parties, but we have had the most extraordinarily elaborate cakes and pastries and hand-crafted, ingenious gifts from our legions of creative fans.
Sweets for the Sweet
Spring 2015: More elaborate confections for the cast. We have a table in our narrow backstage hallway that is most often filled with treats, some savory, most sweet, and the occasional unnaturally large crop of produce from Emily Skegg's family garden. Keeping the show's tempos regulated and the costumes fitting requires discipline, rigor, and… flexibility.
The Big Beauty of Being Small
June 7, 2015: The Tony Award season is a maelstrom of emotions, dreams, disappointments and disorientation. In the midst of all that, the moment to simply do the thing that all the fuss is about becomes precious. Here we're preparing for a moment that would become history later that night when a little girl, eschewing all spectacle, simply sang an exquisite song about self-discovery and a huge auditorium and millions of people around the world remembered what it is that only theater can do. And I got to be there, reading the paper and watching in awe.
News of the World
June 8, 2015: One of the most valuable things Tony recognition does for a show is put it on the radar of people who might not otherwise find it. Fun Home's reach has been phenomenal and will only continue to grow as it moves out into the world. I also like that in this photo, it sort of seems like I might be ordering a nice General Tso's.
June 9, 2015: Maybe because of the lessons in the story we tell nightly, our company has always been good at appreciating and acknowledging the special moments as they pass. We may not have a green room to congregate in, but that doesn't keep us from celebrating each other every chance we get. This was our first night as 2015's Tony Award-winning Best Musical, but it would have looked just the same if it were someone's birthday. And for the record, little Zell's glass contains sparkling apple cider.
The Joys of Fatherhood
June 21, 2015: Despite (or because of) having no children of my own so far, one of my deepest joys throughout the show has been being surrounded by a coterie of unnaturally talented urchins who are even more spectacular small humans. They surprised me with cards on a day for Real Fathers. Darn it…who's peeling onions around here?
Nights to Remember
June 26, 2015: Our composer, Jeanine Tesori, likes to say Fun Home arrived at the exact moment it was needed. It certainly seems like some alignment of the universe put our show at the center of a watershed moment for our country and the LGBTQ community as we played through a year that saw the Supreme Court uphold gay marriage and Stonewall become the first National Monument to the struggle for LGBTQ civil rights. This photo captures us out celebrating with our dear friend Cherry Jones, one of our longest supporters, on the night of the Supreme Court's historic ruling.
Home for the Holidays
Christmas 2015: This little handmade holiday gift from TRAB and her wife, Holly, was one of my favorite treasures from our Broadway Christmas. Sure, it was fascinating to think that this was exactly what our characters would have been munching around the tree on Maple Avenue, but it was also that they were REALLY GOOD COOKIES.
Lassie Come Home
Sept. 3, 2015: My dog Gibson had accompanied me to every dressing room from Tommy to In The Next Room over our 16 and a half years together. It took five years for me to be ready for a new furry sidekick, but Evangeline (a.k.a. Evie) made herself an immediate fixture backstage at Fun Home. She asks repeatedly if I'm certain the Bechdel family didn't have a dog.
Fall 2015: Kids and puppies...I mean, c'mon. Part of the ever-present joy of our run has been the beautiful way our lives weave together onstage and off as seasons pass, children grow, and real life mingles with the work we do, making a cord that binds us together no matter how far we someday wander. Like every family.
Winter 2015: A long run is a rare gift in the theater. No one prepares you for it in school, because very few actors are going to be lucky enough to have to know how to navigate one. Beyond the accolades and ovations, the things that are most to be treasured are quotidian. The little rituals and routines. Sometimes it's just a little chat about nothing as you walk to your places for the next scene. A little stolen moment with your scene partner. Because you know from the first time that there will be a last time.
July 24, 2016: We were stricken and struggling to grasp the horror that was visited on the city of Orlando and its LGBTQ community. But we felt strongly that it was time for one last act of solidarity in our closing weeks. So we took an unprecedented step and brought the entire Broadway company to Florida to perform the most meaningful show in the 772 since our debut at the Public. We raised over $113,000 for Equality Florida, the victims and their families, but it wasn't ultimately the money that meant the most. It was once again the act of showing up and putting what we’d been given to the service of something far more important than show business. I think it will be the moment we remember and treasure most. This photo is of our visit to the impromptu memorial outside the Pulse nightclub. The little yellow Fun Home T-shirt we all signed with our messages takes its place on the fence alongside all the other expressions of grief and solidarity from and for the community of Orlando.
Home Is Where the Heart Is
Summer 2015: There had never been anything quite like our odd, humble little musical on a Broadway stage before. And I think it will be a long time if we will ever see its like again. It changed how stories can be told in a Broadway musical, and it changed who gets to tell them. But if Fun Home gets the legacy it deserves, it will live through the audiences who told us each night how truly changed they were by the experience. It wasn't a matter of lesbian, gay, or straight. It was a story about a family, a father and a daughter, about the struggle and the need to understand yourself and those closest to you. And it was about acceptance and compassion and love. Out of Alison’s family, we made a family of our own, and then invited strangers to our Home eight times a week for several years and asked them to become a family with us. And they did. This is a photo from earlier in the run when TRAB, her brother Christian, and Bruce's sister Jane came to visit. This is who we were.