San Diego

Stars Align for San Diegan Amanda Naughton, Taking the Stage as the Lead in “Fun Home” in Her Hometown

From the first time Actress Amanda Naughton saw the musical "Fun Home" on Broadway, she knew she had to be a part of telling that story.

Fun_Home_Daren_Scott - left to right Amanda Naughton Taylor Coleman Claire Adams-WEB CROP
Daren Scott/Courtesy of the San Diego Rep

It's almost like the stars aligned for Actress Amanda Naughton. 

Naughton, who will star as Alison in the San Diego Repertory Theatre's production of "Fun Home," the five-time Tony Award-winning musical, can hardly believe it when she talks about all the elements that lined up to make this role come together in San Diego. 

It started with the Tony Awards in 2015. "Fun Home," a musical based on Alison Bechdel's graphic novel of the same name, explores Alison's life as a young girl, a college student and an adult. That year, it was the most acclaimed musical of the season. 

When Naughton, a San Diego native, sat down to watch the broadcast, she happened to see the cast perform what is arguably its best-known number, "Ring of Keys." 

The San Diego actress immediately felt compelled to see the show. When Naughton was in New York City a few weeks later, she kept thinking about the musical. 

"And I just thought, I have to go see what that is all about," Naughton said in a phone interview with NBC 7 San Diego. "It was drawing me to it."

She bought a single ticket for the show, playing at Circle in the Square at the time. She had never read the play; she didn't even know much about the plot or music - something rare for an actor, she said. 

But she fell in love with the show right away. 

"I left the show, the theater, that night, with my heart pounding, a lump in my throat, and my head just full of this story," Naughton said.

On her way home on the subway that night, Naughton walked into a subway car and looked up to see Beth Malone, the actress playing Alison in the Broadway production, sitting in front of her. 

This was the second happy strike of fate: randomly seeing the lead actress on the subway. Naughton happened to have mutual friends with Malone: Bets Malone, who is now cast as Alison's mother in the San Diego production. 

"I saw Beth and I said, 'Oh Hi,' - and I was all over - 'I just saw your show, it was just so marvelous, oh my goodness, I'm just so glad I got myself here to see it,'" Naughton recalled.

Beth Malone told Naughton that she loved the musical and planned to stay with the show for a while, but encouraged her to audition for the role of Alison, if she heard anything. 

The next day, Naughton called her agent. 

"That's how I got involved," Naughton recalled. "I put out the word that I was very, very interested in being a part of this show somehow because I just had been so deeply impressed by it when I saw it."

Fast forward some months, and the "Fun Home" announced a tour. Naughton was cast in the tour and understudied both the mother and Alison, an opportunity she said helped her understand what made each character tick. 

"I knew there was going to be some way, but I just didn't know what," Naughton said.

There was just one small element of disappointment: the tour would not stop in San Diego. The musical would stop in 32 cities across the nation, but her hometown was not one of those cities. 

"I couldn't believe it when I got the schedule for the tour and it wasn't playing in San Diego," Naughton said. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I want my friends and neighbors to see this show.'"

But once the tour ended, Naughton's third happy incidence of fate happened: she was cast as the lead in the San Diego Rep's production of "Fun Home," the regional premiere for the musical. 

"To be able to do it all over, for all different audiences, and getting all kinds of amazing reactions from people. . .to be able to finish that tour and come back and do it in San Diego, again, I just feel like something has been drawing me through these stages of being involved in Fun Home," Naughton said. "It just gets better and better."

She considers it an immense privilege to be able to play a role she dreamed about for so long and to be involved with this musical in so many different ways over the years. 

"it doesn't always happen that way for actors, there are some roles that you've always wanted to play and you never get to play them, and this - it's not only the role. It's being in this play. Singing these songs and telling this story. I think Fun Home is extraordinary," Naughton said.

After all these years, being able to come to San Diego and perform for her community - family, neighbors, San Diegans from across the county - is like a dream come true, Naughton said. 

"It's just an amazing amount of fate, and keeping your eyes and ears open, and being in the right place at the right time, and having what it takes to be in this show," she said. "I'm so lucky that it all combined to make this happen."

As the lead in the San Diego Rep, Naughton brings with her a wealth of experience with the musical. She's explored the character of Alison, she has explored Alison's mother, Helen, and she has seen the musical. 

"Now that I'm playing Alison, having also explored the role of the mother, it has enriched it so much more," she said.

"Allison has a wonderful line in the play where she says, 'My dad and I were exactly alike.' And then right after that, she says, 'My dad and I were nothing alike.' They're both true," Naughton said. "I can say that about me and my dad."

One of those moments comes toward the end of the show in a song called "Telephone Wire." It's one of Naughton's favorite parts of the musical to perform, though she is careful to point out that she has many favorite moments and parts of the play. 

In the scene, Alison and her father are trying to have a conversation and talk to each other. But they're struggling, and it's a tough moment to watch and a tough moment to perform, she says.

When she first saw the musical, the scene blew her away. 

"I know that it's now my responsibility to do that scene. . .and to re-enact that scene for the folks that are watching it now and that are coming to it for the first time," Naughton said. "And to having felt the same amount of depth of emotion and integrity and all that, that I want to honor what that's supposed to be."

People are so moved by the scene, Naughton said, they will come up to her after the show and recall times in their lives when they felt a similar way - different circumstances, of course, but the same moment. 

That's the thing about "Fun Home," Naughton said. Even though the plot of the musical may not have many literal parallels to many people's lives, Naughton said, people will find parts of their families and lives in the musical. 

"Allison's story is not everybody's story. But things that happen in her story, you send that story out across the stage and out into the house, and those shards of light, dare I say rainbow light, will hit everybody in some way," Naughton said.

Naughton hopes San Diego audiences will open their hearts and their minds and come to see "Fun Home." 

"It's not a usual play. It's not Oklahoma, it's not an old-fashioned musical or play," Naughton said. "I think it brings with it a kind of newness of telling a story in this way that is great for audiences to experience."

"Fun Home" at the San Diego Repertory Theatre runs from Sept. 6 to Sept. 30. Music by Jeanine Tesori, Book and Lyrics by Lisa Kron, Based on the Graphic Novel by Alison Bechdel, Directed by Sam Woodhouse. For tickets, click here

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