Inside "Fun Home," graphic novel turned Broadway musical

The musical received 12 Tony nominations, including nods for best musical and five acting awards
The musical received 12 Tony nominations, inc... 05:06

Broadway is getting ready for its most important night: the Tony Awards. One of the hottest shows right now, "Fun Home," is based on a graphic memoir written by the daughter of a Pennsylvania undertaker.

It's not what might come to mind when you think Broadway musical, but it's selling out virtually every night, CBS News' Jamie Wax reports.

In her small writing and art studio in Vermont, Alison Bechdel created her graphic memoir, "Fun Home" -- short for funeral home.

She said it's "mind-blowing" how big her story has become because it was hard for her to believe that the story of her dysfunctional family -- centered on her father's apparent suicide -- would have mass appeal.

"I couldn't imagine a more particular, peculiar family constellation. I mean, a lesbian daughter of a closeted, gay man, you know? A funeral home family. Those are very particular coordinates," Bechdel said.

To her amazement, "Fun Home" would be named among the best books of the year by publications like The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. And there was one more surprise.

One day, Bechdel received a call from someone who said they wanted to write a Broadway musical based on her graphic novel.

"My immediate feeling was 'That's crazy. A musical? How are they gonna do that?'" she said.

"Fun Home" is one of the hardest tickets to get on Broadway, and it has scooped up 12 Tony nominations, including best musical.

While not every piece of dialogue is pulled from her life, Bechdel said the line between fact and fiction is sometimes blurry.

"There's many things that have been translated precisely from the book into the play, but even the stuff that they made up feels right, you know?" she said. "Even if my family didn't say that, I'm starting to confuse the play with my actual memories. Like, I don't remember who said what anymore."

The show features Bechdel at three different stages of life: as a child, college student and in her 40s.

Emily Skeggs, who plays college-age Bechdel, said the opportunity is great.

"I mean, as an actor, you usually have to build your character based on just the script and what you've learned about the time period or the playwright. And here we have Alison herself that we can watch, even though it may be a little bit embarrassing," she said.

Sydney Lucas, who plays Bechdel's childhood self, even learned to mimic some of Bechdel's facial expressions.

Inside the theater, the seats surround all sides of the stage. It brings the audience close to the performers and the performers close to their audience.

"I think it just makes an experience that you won't forget, 'cause you actually feel like you're part of it," Lucas said. "I think the show needs to be intimate. This theater makes the show."

Beth Malone, who plays 40-year-old Bechdel, said one song sticks out to her in particular.

"'Ring of Keys,' it is something that, if I watch it too closely every night, it wrecks me," Malone said. "That song is really about something that is larger than the song itself. And it's really amazing to watch the audience receive that number every night."

Among the show's Tony nominations is one for each of the actors playing Bechdel.

"The overwhelming feeling I had was just, like, a relief to have not been not nominated," Malone said. "You know what I mean? It's, like, that's really-- it's, like, 'Thank God I wasn't just the one left off the list. Oh my gosh. That would've been so bad. Phew. OK. Good night.'"

You can watch the Tony Awards Sunday on CBS at 8/7 CT.