by Cris Franco
Eight times a week Joel Perez portrays not only one – but four characters in Broadway’s innovative musical, Fun Home. The all-too-human story of a loving family’s dysfunction, it’s the tale of an unexpected connection between a loving daughter and her enigmatic father. Based on Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic memoir of the same name, this powerful, multi-Tony Award-winning, musical drama requires consummate actor/singers the likes of Mr. Perez. Here’s our interview with the striking and talented Joel Perez:
CRIS FRANCO: Fun Home has been described as “monumental” “breakthrough” and “transformative” – how do you describe it?
JOEL PEREZ: I describe it as a labor of love. This show wasn’t originally intended for a Broadway audience. Its roots are downtown and our creative team was focused on telling an honest and truthful story. The acclaim we have received has been incredible.
CF: Yes, your show won not only every major theatrical award – it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Amazing! Tell us about the role(s) you play in Fun Home and why do you think you were cast to play it/them?
JP: I play a bunch of different parts. Pretty much every adult man that isn’t played by Michael Cerveris who portrays the complicated father of the Bechdel family. I met the show’s creators, Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, while doing a workshop at the Sundance Theater Lab. We hit it off and became good friends. I’m a giant goofball so I think that came in useful when transforming into several different characters in Fun Home. I’m the only actor in the show that plays multiple roles.
CF: Tell us about your heritage, how you got into acting and your career highlights?
JP: Boricua! I was born and raised in Lawrence, MA but my parents were born in Puerto Rico. I got my start in acting by music. I played the drums and sang in my dad’s church (he’s a Pentecostal minister). In high school I got into doing plays and musical theater. I started college pre-med but eventually switched to drama because I loved it so much. After spending a semester studying theater abroad in London, I became certain that I wanted to be an actor.
One of the best moments of my career so far was performing in In the Heights in Puerto Rico! I was a part of the national tour and we did a week-long run at Bellas Artes in San Juan. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have the chance to perform this show where my parents grew up. It was wild!
CF: Performing for your fellow Boricuas – what a thrill! Does being Latino inform your acting process in any way? And has being Latino affected your career in any way?
JP: I think being Latino is an inextricable part of me so it definitely influences the way I approach my work. Latinos are from a rich and varied tapestry of cultures, languages and experiences. I think I try to tap into the many facets of my identity in create full and interesting characters. Being
Latino in the acting business can be a bit frustrating. A lot of the roles thatare available to us are one dimensional and rely heavily on stereotypes. However, there are some great Latino playwrights, screenwriters, directors and producers that are coming up in the business and telling our stories. I feel hopeful for the future. And I better get a call for those jobs! Haha.
CF: From your remarkable performance in Fun Home, I’m certain you’re gonna be getting lots of calls for job, Joel. What went through your mind when last season Fun Home was announced as winning the Tony Award for BEST MUSICAL?
CF: Well said. Of all the great moments in Fun Home ’s compelling narrative, what’s your favorite line or lyric?
JP: “Do you feel my heart saying, Hi?” It breaks my heart all the time. Young Alison is singing it in a moment of the show when she, for the first time, identifies with another person: a delivery woman at a diner. It’s a beautiful scene and Sydney Lucas did an incredible job singing it.
CF: She did such a great job that she was awarded the Tony. What’s the strangest, most embarrassing or funniest thing that’s ever happened to you while rehearsing or performing on stage?
JP: There are a series of trap doors in our show that we ride up and down sometimes. It’s pretty awesome. But there have been a handful of show where the traps malfunctioned when we were only half way out. It’s was pretty funny and the audience got a kick of it.
CF: Audiences love being “in” on the show, even the little mishaps that let them know, hey this is live, folks. About the writing itself, is Fun Home really that avant-garde — or are musicals just behind the times?
JP:Fun Home is coming at a cultural moment that is hungry for honest and genuine theater. Musicals have a bad rep of being campy and fluffy. But the musical form can be a really powerful art form and I think Fun Home does an incredible job of using music to take our audiences on an unexpected emotional ride.
CF: Absolutely. It’s perhaps the most joyous and painful theater piece I’ve seen ever. (And I’ve seen almost everything.) What advice do you have to budding American-Latino actors who long to be Broadway bound?
JP: Don’t give up. Acting has its fair share of ups and downs, but the important thing is to keep creating. Surround yourself with good people who are interested in the art and telling good stories.
CF: Now that you’ve had time to reflect on it all, what was your whole Tony experience like?
JP: It was just the icing on the cake. Just three years ago I went to the Tonys as a “seat filler” and last season I had an actual ticket. I feel incredibly blessed!
Joel Perez is indeed blessed – with tons of talent. If you’d like to see the mighty morphing Mr. Perez in the shockingly beautiful and emotionally stirring Fun Home , log onto: http://funhomebroadway.com