Originally published on Playbill.com
View this story online
When asked to describe the events of the past two years of her life, Sydney Lucas frequently utilizes the same word: “crazy.”
It’s an accurate word for Lucas to choose. The 12-year-old actress skyrocketed to fame and acclaim while starring in Fun Home, the musical adaption of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir. The book chronicles Bechdel’s childhood growing up with her father, a closeted homosexual who ran the family funeral home before dying after being hit by a truck. It’s heavy material for a nine-year-old to take on, but that’s exactly what Lucas did, beginning with the show’s workshops and starring in the 2012-13 Off-Broadway premiere at the Public Theater. She went on to win an Obie Award for her performance — the youngest actress to do so.
Following critical acclaim, a move to Broadway was widely rumored, and Fun Home opened at the Circle in the Square Theatre in April 2014 with the majority of its Off-Broadway cast intact. Bechdel is portrayed by three different actors in the musical: Lucas, as Small Alison; Emily Skeggs as Medium Alison; and Beth Malone as adult Alison.
The transfer to the Main Stem was not a surprise for Lucas, who said, “The one word that popped into my mind when I was told was ‘FINALLY.’ It already felt like I made my Broadway debut with this show in the Off-Broadway version. And when it went to Broadway, I don’t feel like it felt any different. But now I have the label of ‘I am a Broadway actor.’ That’s pretty cool!”
Lucas was 11 years old when she made her Broadway debut, accomplishing a goal she had in mind since she saw her first Broadway musical, Xanadu, at the age of three.
“I remember vividly. I was in the very first row to the left, and all the actors would come by and say I was really cute and I loved it so much,” Lucas recalled. “I think I remember Cheyenne Jackson giving me a high five and pointing to me onstage. I felt so special.”
Lucas had many moments of feeling special as awards season approached: Fun Home was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, and she earned a nomination for her insightful portrayal of the young tomboy struggling to connect with her father. Skeggs and Malone were Tony-nominated as well, along with Judy Kuhn, who played Alison’s mother, and Michael Cerveris, who played Alison’s father, won the Tony.
Along with school, homework and performances, Lucas’ days included press events, receptions and luncheons and meeting celebrities like Alex Sharp, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Hugh Jackman — and many, many different outfits — an experience she also described as “crazy.”
And, she wasn’t alone; her brother Jake was also part of the whirlwind. He plays Louis, son to Tony winner Kelli O’Hara’s Anna Leonowens, in the Tony-winning revival of The King and I at Lincoln Center.
“I was 11 at that time, and it was kind of crazy to be walking the red carpet with Chita Rivera and Kristin Chenoweth,” she said. “It was 15-hour days. You went from one thing to another to two shows — interview to interview, to luncheon, to this to that — and now you have to do a show! It was definitely very crazy. I got to meet Chita Rivera, and one of the first things she said to me was, ‘Definitely enjoy this moment while it lasts. Enjoy every minute of it.'”
Along with interviews and events, awards season included another new experience for Lucas: performing live on an awards broadcast. During the June 7 Tony Awards broadcast, she sang the poignant solo “Ring of Keys,” which chronicles Small Alison’s thoughts as she sees a butch lesbian for the first time and experiences a vivid insight into her own identity. Lucas’ family and friends told her she performed beautifully, but she has no memory of the performance itself.
“I was so, so, so nervous. I was really freaking out backstage. Before I went onstage, I was just like, ‘I’m just going to have to do this, so I need to let go and give my all onstage.’ I pretty much blanked out that whole time. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I went to the zone. I went offstage, and my child wranger Vanessa said, ‘You did great.’ ‘I did?’ Then Rita Wilson said, ‘You did great!’ I’m like, ‘I did?!'”
Fun Home took home the Tony for Best Musical, as well as Best Direction (Sam Gold), Best Actor (Cerveris), and Best Book and Score (Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron) — making history as the first musical with book, music and lyrics by women to win the Tony. Read more about the creation of the musical here.
But Lucas’ history-making adventures with Fun Home did not come to an end. After its victory at the Tonys, the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide — an action that Cerveris had referenced in his acceptance speech at the Awards.
“That night was really awesome because that’s what we were working for,” Lucas recalled. “That’s one of the reasons we’re doing the show, because people need to be accepted. The show is like — we did it, you guys! Obviously we’re not the only reason, but I’m sure that Fun Home was a part of it.”
Fun Home’s message of acceptance has inspired a passionate response from its fans, who have showered Lucas with gifts throughout her run. But even more meaningful than the gifts are letters the cast has received that narrate how the musical has affected them personally.
“Fans write us letters telling us how Fun Home gave them courage to come out to their family, and sometimes we’re the first to know they’re gay — ‘I’m gay but my family doesn’t know yet, but I’m about to come out to them.’ It really is such a tremendous honor to be able to touch people’s lives through acting.”
Acting alongside her Fun Home castmates has served as a wealth of education for her own craft, Lucas said. Her mother is played by four-time Tony nominee Kuhn, who has starred in Les Misérables, Chess and She Loves Me, and her father is brought to life by two-time Tony winner Cerveris, a Tony winner for Assassins, who has starred in Sweeney Todd and The Who’s Tommy.
“I’ve learned so much, not only from an acting perspective but just from a human being perspective,” Lucas said of her co-stars. “How to be gracious and nice to people and I get to perform onstage every day with these people. I always think, ‘Oh my gosh. These are these Broadway geniuses, and I’m performing with them and they’re treating me as their equal. I’m learning so much from them.’ They just taught me to be nice to people. And, they’ve taught me acting techniques even though they don’t know that they have, but they have onstage. I watch them every night. It’s like a master class. I’m really going to miss them.”
Fun Home’s journey has inspired the cast to form a tight-knit bond, and, Lucas said, they really have become a family. When thinking about her last performance, and the last time she will “play airplane” with Cerveris, she said, “I’m going to have to try my best to not get emotional. I know that when I’m crying I’m going to sound like a donkey. It’s going to be crazy. It’s really going to be a weird moment. That’s the last time I’m going to perform Small Alison on Broadway… Hopefully in the next seven years I can come back and perform Medium Alison!”