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‘Composition Must Be Stiff’: Did the ‘Fun Home’ Composers Pay Homage to an HBO Show?

We see what you did there.

Lauren Ambrose and Michael C. Hall, "Six Feet Under" costars (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)

The theatre is a community. While there may sometimes be competition or infighting, sharing in the joy of this art is a communal experience.

This might be why many great shows aren’t afraid to include shoutouts to the themes or stories that inspired them, further immortalizing them onstage—whether it’s through the score, the text, or the visuals.

Here are some of our favorite sly allusions hidden within some of your favorite Broadway shows.

Hamilton

Hamilton is full of hip-hop references, especially to 90’s icon Biggie Smalls. In one of the musical’s seminal numbers, “My Shot”, Alexander Hamilton spells out his name similarly to the way Biggie spells out “notorious” in “Going Back to Cali.” Composer, lyricist, and star Lin-Manuel Miranda said this was deliberate, as well as many of the other allusions to the genre that inspired one of Broadway’s most legendary shows.

Wicked

It’s no secret that Wicked‘s source material is from the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz (as well as the book that inspired it), but what may not be readily apparent are the ways in which composer Stephen Schwartz paid tribute to one of America’s favorite stories through the score. The repeated lyric of Unlimited/I’m limited at the beginning of “Defying Gravity” and “For Good” are actually the first seven notes of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Schwartz spoke to this: “The reason that that’s a joke is because according to copyright law, when you get to the eighth note, then people can come and say, ‘Oh you stole our tune.’ And of course obviously, it’s also disguised in that it’s completely different rhythmically.” The main character’s name, Elphaba, is also a tribute to the story’s original author, L. Frank Baum. The author of the book the musical is based on took the first letter of his three names to create “L.F.B.” or “Elphaba.”

[title of show]

[title of show] perfectly encapsulated the frustrations and joys of making an original musical with its quirkiness and cleverness. One song, “Monkeys and Playbills,” features lyrics comprised of titles that famously flopped—I Gotta Go DiscoA Change in the Air, Merrily We Roll Along, and others. While the allusions may not exactly be hidden (playbills of the shows flash across a screen), we can appreciate the research and whimsy of the entire number.

Fun Home

Broadway’s Fun Home, based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel of the same name, is a thrilling story about one woman’s coming-of-age and relationship with her father. Much of the story takes place in the funeral home (or, abbreviated, fun. home) owned by her family. Many believe that the final chords of the show’s finale allude to another famous story set widely in a funeral home: HBO’s hit series Six Feet Under. Take a listen for yourself to hear the similarities in the first piano chords in the Six Feet Under theme. Now, listen to this song from Fun Home at the 3-minute mark.

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  • Evan Brechtel

    Evan is a writer and editor based in New York. In addition to his work with Second Nexus, he freelan... keep reading