March 13, 2016

The family in “Southern Comfort,” a sweetheart of a musical that opened on Sunday at the Public Theater, behaves as most families do. Its members are loving and supportive, but also prone to conflict over things small and large. Father and son squabble over sexual politics. Son resents the stepmother on the horizon. Offense is taken when a much-loved picnic dish is ignored. But there’s a difference. The clan in this musical is not related by blood. Its members are a grab bag of folks brought together by the unofficial patriarch, Robert Eads, who was born Barbara but has transitioned to a male identity. He has gathered around him a couple of other similar men and their partners, creating a tight-knit community in, of all unlikely places, a rural Georgia town. If this sounds familiar you probably saw the documentary film the musical is based on, which won a grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001. Lest you assume that the theater is jumping late on the transgender bandwagon, I should note that the musical, with book and lyrics by Dan Collins and music by Julianne Wick Davis, and direction by Thomas Caruso (who conceived it with Robert DuSold), has been in development for more than 10 years and has had two prior runs.