Fun Home, the hit Broadway show inspired by Vermont cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s memoir, won a total of five Tony Awards on Sunday, including best musical. The show chronicles her childhood and college years in a family with a closeted gay father.
But Bechdel isn’t the only Vermonter with a connection to Fun Home. Eleven-year-old Oscar Williams of Charlotte plays the older of her two brothers.
The sixth grader has been living in New York City since late February to rehearse and perform in the show.
After a full day at school, Oscar has dinner and then performs at the Circle in the Square Theater, which is on the same block as the apartment he lives in with his mom. The theater is dark on Mondays, but Fun Home is performed eight times on the other six days of the week.
“If you really love what you’re doing, it doesn’t really seem like hard work, actually,” he says. “I love doing theater and I get to do it almost every day.”
Oscar is a thin kid with large eyes and long, straight hair. He and the other two child actors are on stage for the first hour and 10 minutes of the musical. During the remaining 30 minutes of the show, they do homework or play before the curtain call.
Oscar gets home around 10:30 p.m. and goes promptly to bed, which is more than two hours later than his usual bedtime in Vermont.
“Sometimes I’m really excited when I get home and it takes me a while to actually go to sleep,” he says. “Sometimes I’m just tired and sometimes I’m just both. When I go to bed at night, I’m just, like, I can’t wait for tomorrow because it’s going to be another great show. And it’s going to be another great day hanging out with my friends.”
Oscar's friends are at a special public school for the performing arts. He had to audition to get in to his sixth grade class, which has about 20 students. It’s a different place than Charlotte Central School.
“This is a school filled with kids who share his passion,” says Zoe Williams, Oscar's mom. “In the sixth and seventh grade, there’s got to be like seven kids on Broadway right now.”
Zoe picks her son up every day at school. One of Oscar’s classmates is also a cast mate: Sydney Lucas plays the youngest version of Allison in Fun Home.
A New York Times theater critic described Sydney as “incomparable,” and she was nominated for a Tony for best actress. She thinks highly of her cast mate, Oscar Williams.
"I love him. He’s so talented. He’s really fun,” says Sydney. “And my favorite thing about him is that he can laugh about himself and he really likes joking around. Like, in rehearsals or in a performance if we accidentally messed up, we just laugh.”
The three kids who act in Fun Home have a show-stopping number, which is done as a commercial for the Bechdel family’s funeral home.
In the musical, this number begins with a coffin rising up through a trapdoor in the stage floor. The kids are inside the casket and the audience goes nuts when they emerge and dance around on furniture in the family living room and on top of the coffin, which Oscar admits is big fun.
“We were just, ‘Wait, we’re going to do what?’” he says, laughing. “When we first actually did it, it was so thrilling and so nerve-racking. It’s kind of weird and fun at the same time because you’re in a coffin and it’s really hot in the coffin, too.”
Back in Charlotte, Oscar lives with his parents and four brothers in a renovated barn on Route 7. In New York, his mother Zoe found a studio apartment on the 17th floor of an apartment building across the street from the theater. The apartment has three large, arched windows looking out on the west side of Manhattan. The view includes a small sliver of the Hudson River.
“They told me it was 9 feet wide. And I was, like, measuring 9 feet in my house and I’m like, ‘That’s … what can you fit in 9 feet?’” she says.
Well, it turns out that you can fit a couch, a flat screen TV and king-size bunk beds. During the week, Zoe Williams lives here with Oscar and two of his brothers. On weekends, her husband Tom drives down to New York with the other two sons and the family’s three dogs. The whole brood shares a space that is not quite 500 square feet.
Oscar likes the food in New York City, especially French onion soup. And he says he enjoys going to a park that is just eight blocks uptown from his temporary home.
“I love everything about New York City, all the buildings," says Oscar. “And also Central Park is kind of like a getaway to Vermont in New York City. We climb rocks; I love climbing the rocks. We walk around the park trying to explore new things we can do. And there are other parks. There’s a park on 43rd that all the Broadway kids go to.”
The young actor says he misses his friends in Vermont. Back in April, 21 kids from the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts came down on a bus to see Oscar perform in Fun Home. Perhaps his biggest fan may be his dad, Tom, who has performed with Oscar in Stowe and Burlington.
“I’m beyond proud. I’m so thrilled for him, so happy. It’s something he worked for, something he wanted to do and he’s succeeded at it," says Tom.
Oscar Williams has gone from a kid who loved “stage dooring,” to a professional performer who greets his own fans at the stage door after the show. Among the well wishers who greeted him after one performance was Hugh Jackman, who Oscar refers to as one of his “dream actors.”
Oscar’s contract with Fun Home ends in October, but it’s clear he wants to keep performing on the Great White Way for as long as he can.