Aspen Times Weekly: Beth Malone at ‘Home’ on Broadway
One wouldn’t normally associate the kind of ambition required to land a lead role in a Broadway musical with the powder-chasing ethos of ski-bumming in Aspen. And yet, there is Beth Malone, armed with the lessons of a misspent youth on the slopes here, taking the stage as Alison in “Fun Home.”
A musical based on the 2006 graphic memoir by MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Alison Bechdel about coming out and growing up with a closeted gay father, “Fun Home” begins previews at the Circle in the Square Theatre on March 27.
Malone spent most of her 20s in Aspen, skiing by day and singing for her supper at the Crystal Palace dinner theater. She still lives in Snowmass Village part-time with her wife, and when the musical opens April 19 Malone will have an Aspen contingent in the audience.
“It’ll be nice to have my homies in the house so that they can see one of their own in the New York theater scene,” she told me from New York.
Malone has come close to landing several roles on Broadway since going back to school and making a go at a theater career at the tail end of the ’90s, and made her Broadway debut as June Carter Cash in “Ring of Fire” in 2006. After the Great Recession gutted New York theater, she had homecoming roles here in Theatre Aspen’s “25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee” (2009) and “The Marvelous Wonderettes” (2010). Playing a lead in one of 2015’s most anticipated new shows is certainly her biggest role yet.
“This is the high point of my career, absolutely, right this second,” she says.
A Castle Rock native, Malone began acting as a teenager in the barn at the Country Dinner Playhouse in Englewood. From there, unlike most of her Broadway colleagues, Malone didn’t start hustling for parts in regional theaters or immediately trying to make her mark on the Great White Way. She went skiing.
“It makes me a completely unique animal in this universe of New York actors who spend every waking minute pounding the pavement trying to achieve something,” she says. “I know a lot of very unhappy people in this town, I have to be honest. I’m lucky in that I have three great loves – my wife, acting, and I love skiing. I love the mountains in the way that I love theater.”
Having the mountains to come home to has kept Malone sane when show business has let her down.
“When the world crashed and the economy went to shit, there was some pretty damn good powder that year and the next year,” she recalls. “So I was like, ‘I don’t feel poor.’ It’s hard to feel completely devastated when you have a ski pass and legs that work.”
Earlier this winter, during a break between “Fun Home” rehearsals – and when her Snowmass Village condo wasn’t rented out – Malone and her wife took an impromptu road trip home.
“It had snowed like five inches and I was in Powerline thinking, ‘I am going to Broadway but right now I am skiing powder! Who do I think I am?’”
Malone has been with “Fun Home” since its beginnings four years ago, doing readings at the Public Theater downtown, traveling with it for workshops at the Sundance Theatre Lab, and back to New York for its acclaimed Off-Broadway run in fall 2013.
“There have been a lot of people that have come in and out of this show,” she says. “A lot of people that didn’t get to move on with it. … It’s amazing to keep getting the call that I’m still on the ‘good’ list. I’m lucky to have come from the reading all the way to Broadway. It’s exceedingly rare to make that journey with a piece. And I’ve been around long enough to know how lucky I am.”
There were three prior projects where Malone received the other phone call, getting cut from projects as they moved up the ladder to Broadway. The biggest disappointment was a part in “Sister Act,” a role she’d originated in its 2006 run in Pasadena. She was dropped when the musical went to Broadway in 2011.
After the heartbreak of losing “Sister Act,” she attempted to set her career on a new trajectory, which eventually brought her to “Fun Home.” At the time she contemplated finding a theater program to join full-time here in Colorado.
“I thought maybe I could build a life in the theater close to a ski lift,” she says.
Instead, she set new standards for herself, “saying no to crap jobs,” and taking on only projects that meant something to her personally. She developed an autobiographical songs-and-stories show, “Beth Malone: So Far,” about her unique journey from self-proclaimed “redneck” roots in Castle Rock to coming out and forging a life in theater.
As “So Far” played around the U.S., including a January 2011 show at the Wheeler Opera House, it crystalized her identity as an artist.
“I felt I owed that to myself, before I quit,” she says. “I’d been doing this my whole life but never asked what makes me me.”
So when she got in the room to audition for “Fun Home” with Lisa Kron, who adapted it for the stage with Jeanine Tesori, Malone was focused.
She has developed what she calls a “tentative friendship” with Bechdel in her years as the author’s on-stage doppelgänger. Bechdel, she says, has attempted not to step on the toes of the woman playing her, while Malone is cautious not to get so close with Bechdel that their relationship affects her performance (or vice versa).
Some observers have been too quick to draw parallels between Malone’s life as a gay woman and Bechdel’s, she says. Their experiences and coming-out stories are as distinctive as any two different lives, though at the moment they have the same high-and-tight haircuts and similar mannerisms.
“I’m like, ‘No, it’s just another lesbian,’” she says. “We’re not incredibly like each other, except that we are.”
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For anybody who lives here on the Western Slope, “Wireless” will likely conjure up some bad memories of winter trips westbound on Interstate 70, when Eisenhower Tunnel closures left you stranded, when you sit parked waiting for an accident to clear for hours worried you’d run out of gas, or — as is the case with Andy — when you took a bad detour or shortcut.