Theatre fans know Broadway actor Eric Kunze from his role as Marius to Lea Salonga ‘s Eponine in the 1993 production of Les Misérables. He was only 20 years old back then.
He then went on to star in several other Broadway shows, among them as Chris in Miss Saigon; as Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees; as “The Man” in the national touring company of Whistle Down the Wind [for which he won Best Actor in a Musical from the Independent Reviewers of New England]; and as the lead in the US national tour of Jesus Christ Superstar.
While busy on off-Broadway productions in 2016, he came into a big surprise when he learned he was going to be reunited with Salonga 23 years later in the Philippine production of the Tony Award-winning musical, Fun Home.
After watching the musical in New York, Kunze immediately flew to the Philippines to star in the show’s first international production with Salonga and an all-Filipino cast in Cris Villonco, Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante, Yanah Laurel, Laurence Mossman, Katie Bradshaw, and Andee Achacoso, with Noel Cormia, Daniel Drilon, Albert Silos and Teddy Velasco.
Performing to sold-out audiences just before Christmas and earning overwhelming reviews, Kunze is back in Manila after a three-month break for the Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group’s re-run of Fun Home from March 10 to 19.
Still reeling from the show’s success in November, Kunze expressed excitement over the clamor they received from those who were unable to see the show.
“It was sold out and people couldn’t get a seat, so here we are again,” the actor enthused during a sit-down interview on March 1. “What’s great is that it was really a word of mouth show because in the first week we still had seats, then once the second week started, we got sold out right away. I guess the audiences here like to wait for other people’s reactions and reviews to come out before coming to watch,” he shared.
Fun Home is based on Alison Bechdel’s best-selling graphic memoir of the same title and features music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron.
In the story, graphic novelist Alison (Villonco) dives deeper into her past when her father, Bruce (Kunze) dies and then tells the story of a volatile, brilliant, one-of-a-kind man whose temperament and secrets defined her family and her life. Moving between past and present, Alison relieves her unique childhood playing at the family’s Bechdel Funeral Home, her growing understanding of her own sexuality as a young lesbian, and the looming, unanswerable questions about her father’s hidden desires as a closeted gay funeral director struggling with his sexuality.
Besides his admiration for the characters they are playing, Kunze said that it is the material and story itself that really attracted him to join the musical in Manila.
“I think this is the opportunity to do something that is not just your conventional musical theater story because it’s something that will affect people. As an actor and as an artist, it’s a piece that is written so well and so well-crafted that it makes it easy for an actor to be in it, because it’s all there for you. And also to see the response of the audience, you really get to feel the emotions all the more. It’s just rewarding because you can reach out people with this beautiful story.”
Fun Home arguably forms an emotional roller coaster ride, according to Kunze. Playing a role that has a dysfunctional family background, he related, is also is very exhausting to do every single night.
“We had the luxury to meet the creators and they gave us the background of this piece. The story is dysfunctional with so many shapes and forms and colors. We were sitting out at a table reading our script and discovering all these dysfunctions during the rehearsals. We were always exhausted to do it every day but despite that, we are still grateful that we get to do the roles that are not played quite often,” he shared.
Asked how he related and understood Bruce’s character, Kunze said, “I am not as narcissistic as him but I got closer to him by dealing with issues—confronting your issues on sexuality or your demons if you will. It was also understanding the battle of someone with mental and bipolar issues. Another lesson is experiences with children, and wondering how they are going through their lives when it comes to their sexual preference or choices that they make, and all these things you wonder about as a parent.”
In closing he said, “Honestly, as challenging as it is, this is one of the easiest roles I’ve ever done because it’s just an enlightening treat to do the show because of the cast, the story and the director.”
Fun Home is directed by Bobby Garcia with Musical Direction by Ceejay Javier, and will have its re-run at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati.