TR Robertson — It’s silly, a tad slapstick, slightly sexy, hilariously funny and a wonderful Sondheim musical comedy now on stage at Solana Beach’s North Coast Repertory Theatre and the final production for NC Rep’s 36th season. That comedy is “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, from a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Shevelove and Gelbart must have been inspired by the Roman playwright Plautus. Plautus wrote several farcical plays, one, “Pseudolus”, is the name of the main character in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”. It is also one of the largest plays/musicals NC Rep has staged.
In a time when we need more chances to laugh when we can, “A Funny Thing…” will provide audiences with a chance to laugh and laugh and laugh. The musical comedy is full of quick one liners, over-the-top personalities, slamming doors, mistaken identities, audience participation, and Oh Yes, great acting.
Photos by Aaron Rumley
“A Funny Thing on the Way to the Forum” opened on Broadway in 1962 at the Alvin Theatre. The original production was to have Phil Silvers in the lead role of Pseudolus, but he turned it down, as did Milton Berle. Zero Mostel would eventually be signed. The musical comedy would earn 6 Oscars, including Oscars for Best Musical, Best Producer, Best Author, Best Performance by a Featured Actor, Best Direction of a Musical and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for Zero Mostel. The musical comedy would be made into a musical film in 1966.
The story is a simple one. Roman slave, Pseudolus, whose name in Latin means Faker, will be given his freedom is he will help his master, Hero, get the girl of his dreams, Philia, a virgin living in the house of Marcus Lycus, owner of a house of courtesans. Lycus was the “pimp” in Plautus play. One problem, Philia, whose name in Greek means love, has been purchased by Roman officer, Miles Gloriosus. Gloriosus means boastful soldier in Latin. This simple story will explode into a hilarious series of situation as Pseudolus spins one tale after another, involving a multitude of people in his plot to make sure Philia, somehow, becomes Hero’s love.
North Coast Rep Artistic Director David Ellenstein is the Director for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”. He and his creative team have assembled a perfectly cast group of actors and actresses for the thirteen roles in this musical comedy. Along with Choreographer Colleen Kollar Smith, Managing Director for Moonlight Stage Productions, the creative team has the actors and actresses moving around the set in perfectly timed sequences, almost like a comedic ballet. They quickly move in and out doors, off stage left, off stage right, and a myriad other physical situations which leave the audience in “stiches”.
Playing Pseudolus is NC Rep veteran Omri Schein. A loud roar for Omri at the end of the play, when the cast is taking their bows, attest to the delight he brought the audience. His facial expressions, along with quick wit on stage, continue to show his growth as an actor in San Diego theatre. His opening number, “Comedy Tonight”, along with the rest of the cast, sets the tone and story line of what we are about to see on stage. The flighty Philia is played by another NC Rep veteran, Noelle Marion. Philia is Greek for love. She, along with Chris M. Kauffmann, who plays Hero, complement one another as the two young, lost lovers. Kauffmann is featured in a number of songs, “Love, I Hear” and with Schein “Free” and “Pretty Little Picture” with Schein and Marion. Marion also sings a “tender” lament, “That’ll Show Him”.
Kevin Hafso Koppman plays Hysterium, master servant to Hero’s family and main servant to Domina, Hero’s mother. Koppman, another NC Rep veteran and veteran of numerous regional plays, is a wonderful foil to Schein’s Pseudolus. He finds himself in constant situations, most to his “unliking”, as he becomes more and more involved in Pseudolus’s plot. Hysterium is Latin for hysterical or anxious, a perfect way to describe how Koppman plays his role. Another audience favorite and an often seen performer in regional theatre is David Mc Bean, who portrays Marcus Lycus, the owner of the house of courtesans, with great flamboyant and flowing ease. He is another actor who uses his facial expressions to bring out the most of the characters he portrays. Jason Maddy plays the arrogant, pompous Roman officer, Miles Gloriosus, and sings “Bring Me My Bride” with conviction.
Melida Gilb is hilarious as Domina, Hero’s mother, wife to Senex. Interestingly, Domina means mistress in Latin. Andrew Ableson brings a lustfully funny approach to Senex, as he tries to escape his domineering wife for what he thinks is a romantic set-up for himself. Senex is Latin for old man. The remaining cast members include John Greenleaf as Erronius, an older man searching for his lost children, at one point having to run around the Seven Hills of Rome, when told to do so by Pseudolus pretending to be a soothsayer. Erronius is Latin for wandering. Luke H. Jacobs plays a multitude of roles, one very funny one as a eunuch working for Marcus Lycus. Missy Marion also plays a multitude of roles, including Vibrata, Latin for vibrant, a courtesan who is quiet animalistic. Amy Perkins also have numerous roles including Panacea, a courtesan whose name is Latin for Cure All. Perkins, Marion and Jacobs multiple roles are referred to as Protean, a reference to actors/actresses who will play and sing many parts on stage. The final performer is Jean Schroeder, making her NC Rep debut as an equity actor. She plays another courtesan, Tintinabula. Her name means bells in Latin and her costume features this. She is also part of the musicals ensemble.
The creative design team for the musical included Marty Burnett – Resident Scenic Designer, Matthew Novotny – Lighting Design, Aaron Rumley – Sound, Elisa Benzoni – Costumes, Peter Herman – Hair & Wigs, and Holly Gillard – Prop Design. Cindy Rumley is the Stage Manager. The Musical Director is Ron Councell, directing musicians James Beauton, Sean Laperruque and Jim George.
This a musical which will leave you laughing as you leave the theatre. The musical will run until August 12th. Tickets are available by going to www.northcoastrep.org or call 858-481-1055. Prices range from $56 – $49 depending on the day of the week and some discounts are available. Next up for NC Rep, as they start their 37th Season is Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” beginning September 5th.