By Kelli Frost
From Midsummer Magazine, 1995
There are certainly a number of great reasons to see A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum this summer at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. There’s the music by Stephen Sondheim, perhaps America’s premiere musical composer today. There’s the jokes by Larry Gelbart, the creator of the amazingly successful television series, M*A*S*H. There’s a chance to see the Festival’s first musical in many years. But there are still more reasons; in fact, I think there are ten more reasons, appropriately dubbed the “Top Ten Reasons You Will Love A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum This Summer in Cedar City. They are:
10. Fun. People like to see and produce A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum because it is a fun show—fun to watch, fun to sing and dance, fun to direct, fun to act—for everyone. “I want to present the play as two and one-half hours of sheer entertainment!” said director Roger Bean, who arrives from Manhattan's Circle Repertory Theatre to direct for the Festival this summer. “We know it's corny and full of one-liners, but it's one hell of a lot of fun!”
9. Surprises. Composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim has given the Festival permission to use two previously unused songs. When Bean contacted Sondheim about using the new material for the 1995 Festival production, Sondheim readily agreed. The first new number comes directly after the overture and is sung by Domina, the dominating wife of Senex. She sings “Farewell” to everything and everyone as she reluctantly leaves home to attend the senate in Rome. By the time she exits everyone else is celebrating her departure—especially her son, Hero, who immediately falls in love with a courtesan named Philia. But she's an unusual courtesan—a virgin!
8. More New Songs. The second new song in the show is “The Echo Song” which replaces “That'll Show Him” from the original score. Philia asks the gods whether or not she should follow Hero, and the “gods” (Hero on the roof) echo from above “of course you should!”
7. Stars. Don't miss Fred C. Adams, Festival founder and executive producer appearing as the comic lead, Pseudolus--a captive slave who is bent on finagling his freedom by show's end. “One reason Roger Bean asked me to play Pseudolus is that he knows my strengths and limitations as a performer. Roger and I have a wonderful rapport, since we have done this show before [at Southern Utah University],” says Adams. One of the most delightful aspects of this show is the list of characters whose names are actually descriptions of them: Senex (a dirty old man), Domina (his wife), Hysterium (a frantic hypersensitive slave to Domina), Pseudolus (a great pretender), Erronius (a befuddled old man), Lycus (a real hard-to-like guy) Miles Gloriosus (a pompous warrior). You get the idea.
6. A Visual Feast. Scenic designer George Maxwell is bubbling with ideas that incorporate Bean's directoral concepts. According to Adams, “Roger and George see the goal of this production with a singular eye—fun!” The Roman comedies of Plautus, on which A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is based, include sight gags and visual gimmicks in the vein of Three Stooges humor, slapstick and physical acrobatics intent on evoking laughter.
5. History. “Did you know that Plautus is the father of the actual slapstick instrument?” asks scenic designer George Maxwell. The slapstick is traditionally used by a master to keep his servants in line. lt is made of two thin wooden planks that make an intimidating slapping sound when the servant is hit—still very effective on today's stages. Audiences will also recognize many other remnants of Roman comedy that have influenced modem vaudeville and Brifish music hall genres.
4. Family Entertainment. This show is a terrific family favorite! Just like Saturday morning cartoons, the humor is sophisticated and physical, sometimes bawdy, sometimes going over the heads of younger people, but always delightful. “Roger Bean knows our audiences here at the Festival. and he will no doubt make the most of the scripted and musical allusions to adult themes without the lewdness that sometimes riddles stagings of this play. We guarantee this is a show for the entire family.
3. Extras. The old adage “there are no small roles, only small actors” has no basis in this play, where the most entertaining roles in the show are the Proteans—three of the most ridiculous clown characters imaginable. “We have cast the three zaniest actors we could find to play these guys,” said Bean.
2. Great Refreshments at Intermission. You will laugh so hard during the first act that you'll welcome intermission to give your face a rest. There, you will spend your few minutes mingling with other theatre-lovers, enjoying the Festival ambiance, and savoring the terrific taste treats.
1. And the Number One Reason You Will Love the 1995 Production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. [Editor’s Note: Excuse me, we can’t print that! This number one reason is a secret the Festival administrators want kept until opening night. However, I can tell you that it involves Fred C. Adams as you have probably never seen him before.]
Well, that’s about it. Anybody can find a reason to enjoy this year’s production of this hilarious musical comedy. Pick your favorite, and I’ll see you there.