Two Local Students Make Their Professional Debut in a Fun Musical

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(Sally Hogarty, Photographer)
Local students McKenna Rose (left) and Keenan Moran will soon be performing five days a week in a professional musical in San Francisco while their families do their own “dancing” through elaborate carpool schedules.

    Not too many people would use the adjective “fun” to describe a funeral home, but such is the case for the five-time Tony Award winning memoir Fun Home. Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel about growing up in the family-owned funeral home (where caskets became familiar playthings), Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s musical adaptation makes its San Francisco debut this month. But, more importantly for two young Lamorinda students, it marks their professional theatrical debut.
    Orinda Intermediate School 6th grader McKenna Rose plays the precocious and highly opinionated Small Alison and St. Perpetua School 4th grader Keenan Moran, plays her energetic younger brother John.
    “It’s so exciting being in my first professional theater role,” said Rose, who previously performed at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School as well as Lafayette’s Performing Arts Academy and the Peter Pan Foundation. “I’ve never been in a play before where I didn’t know everyone.”
    Moran, who also can’t wait to be performing in San Francisco, looks forward to rehearsing one number in particular, where he sings and dances on top of a coffin.
    “It’s a ridiculous solo that opens the production and shows what a funny character I play,” said Moran. “He doesn’t really understand what’s going on and just keeps interrupting everyone. He has lots of energy and a quirky imagination.”
    A finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, Fun Home explores Bechdel’s life at three different stages, with Rose playing the youngest Alison. The story is told in a non-linear fashion with Small Alison and young John popping in and out as the production goes back and forth in time.
    “It’s a little confusing,” Rose said. “But I can relate to a lot of what Alison’s going through. She fights with her dad, and my own dad and I have little fights over homework, so I can use that on stage.”
    Not a light-hearted comedy, Fun Home delves into Bechdel’s journey to discover her sexuality and into her troubled relationship with her hot-tempered father.
    “When I was auditioning, my mom let me know it wasn’t a kid’s show,” Moran said. “I’m a little nervous about this big fight that happens when everyone is getting ready to go to a party. It’s a big transition point in the show.”
    While the young thespians learn their lines and work on their characters, their moms, Renee DeWeese Moran and Shelly Rose, busily construct elaborate carpool schedules. When one mom is driving Keenan and McKenna to rehearsal, the other might be driving children from both families to various activities in the East Bay.
    “We’re ready and excited, and we have our carpool schedule all worked out,” said Shelly, who is also the marketing and operations manager for the Lamorinda Arts Council.
    “It’s pretty complicated for everyone with Keenan and I also balancing rehearsals with homework,” said Rose. “We even miss some school, which is a bit more stressful. But it will be worth it to prove I can handle a professional show and keep my grades up.”
    Fun Home runs Wednesdays – Sundays from April 21 through May 8 at the Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. Produced by 42nd Street Moon, the show is directed by Tracy Ward with Dave Dobrusky as music director and Natalie Greene as choreographer. Tickets are available now at www.42ndstmoon.org.

Sally Hogarty can be reached at sally@theorindanews.com.

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