SWEETWATER COUNTY – The Performing Arts Department at Western Wyoming Community College will present the classic 1960s’ Stephen Sondheim musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” beginning Friday, Feb. 26, at 7:30 p.m. in the WWCC Theatre.
This colorful and hilariously farcical musical comedy, which inspired the 1966 film, promises to keep audiences laughing from start to finish with an onslaught of puns, plot twists, mistaken identities, and bawdy jokes.
Additional shows are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 27, at 7:30 p.m. and for Thursday, March 3, Friday, March 4, and Saturday, March 5 at 7:30 p.m. There will be a 2 p.m. matinee show on Saturday, March 5. Children under 5 will not be admitted to any evening performances, but they are welcome to attend the March 5 matinee. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for students and seniors. For more information, or to purchase tickets, please contact the Performing Arts Office at (307) 382-1721 or go to wwcc.tix.com.
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is based on the farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus. It follows the social misadventures of a clever Roman slave, Pseudolus (Kris Karns), and his young master, Hero (Alma Lambson), who is in love with the beautiful Philia (Camberlynne Richins), a virginal courtesan in the House of Lycus. Pseudolus aspires to earn his freedom by playing matchmaker between the two, and the resulting comic mayhem brings hilarity to every corner of ancient Rome.
Karns, of Orem, Utah, said that he shares a number of traits with Pseudolus, so the character’s voice was fairly easy to find. After six weeks of rehearsals, however, Karns said he is looking forward to performing the show live for an audience so that he and the rest of the cast can react to the laughter and energy of actual spectators. Unlike some of the Performing Arts Department’s more serious recent productions, such as last year’s “Jane Eyre” or last semester’s “A Bright Room Called Day,” “A Funny Thing Happened…” is a broad, raucous comedy that isn’t afraid to veer into sheer silliness. But without the all-important crowd reaction, he said, the experience isn’t complete.
“It is one of the funniest shows I have ever worked on,” said Karns, whose career at Western has included starring turns in “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Legally Blonde,” among other appearances. “My experience with this show has been amazing. Eric de Lora and Chris Will are fantastic directors, and the rest of the cast is amazing.”
De Lora, now directing his fourth production at Western, said “A Funny Thing…” was the show that made him a fan of Sondheim.
“I have played the songs forever, it seems, and it was probably the music that made me want to know all of the works of Stephen Sondheim,” he recalled. “My first experience with the show was watching a production that starred my high school drama teacher as Pseudolus in 1973 in Fresno, Calif. It wasn’t until six years that I actually directed the show at the private high school where I was teaching in Berkeley, and the students were brilliant and funny.”
De Lora explained that the writing by Larry Gelbart and Bert Shevelove pays tribute to comedians and vaudevillians of the 1930s with a comic energy that is channeled through the sensibilities of 1950s and ‘60s television, where many of those 1930s’ performers later worked. The story, he said, is ultimately about love: being young and crazy in love, old and silly in love, or just plain ridiculously in love. De Lora encouraged audience members to sit back and let the sheer comic joy of “A Funny Thing Happened…” sweep them back into another place and time.
“Comedy is challenging in many ways, because we as humans are expected to be mature, responsible, and serious in our daily professional lives,” the director said. “And yet, when no one is watching, we want to be a little silly and just have a good laugh. I think it was the writer Bennett Cerf who wrote that laughter is the best medicine and cures all manner of social ills. So acting comedy is challenging because it is usually buried further under the surface and sometimes takes actors a little longer to unearth. But when they do, the reward is so much greater.
“I love giving actors permission to be silly and crazy in rehearsal, and creating a space for them to be ridiculous, knowing that they will then give themselves permission to bring that funny part of themselves to the work and the stage,” de Lora added.
Melissa Jacobson, of Clinton, Utah, plays Geminae, a courtesan. She spoke enthusiastically about the show’s creative atmosphere and said the cast bonded quickly over the material.
“The cast made a safe zone for each performer and it was easy to be ourselves while letting our creative comedic side out,” she said.
Jacobson encouraged all aspiring actors and actresses not to give up on their performance dreams. Show biz is hard, she said, but performers have to “fake it until you make it,” especially if following that dream ultimately is going to make them happy.
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” features charming songs by Stephen Sondheim and witty humor by writers Larry Gelbart and Bert Shevelove. It was originally produced on Broadway by Harold S. Prince. It is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI. 421 West 54th Street, New York, NY, 10019. Phone: 212-541-4684. Fax: 212-397-4684. www.MTIShows.com.