Friday, April 9, 2010

Washington College Presents "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"

CHESTERTOWN – The Washington College Department of Drama will stage the musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 15-17 at 8 p.m. in the new Decker Theatre, Gibson Center for the Arts.

The play’s famous opening number sums up what audiences can expect: “Old situations, new complications, nothing portentous or polite. Tragedy tomorrow. Comedy tonight!” The popular song helped further the career of composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who turned 80 on March 22 of this year, and it sets the tone perfectly for what follows on stage: bawdy, rowdy fun.

Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart (the latter wrote the movie Tootsie and the TV show Mash) created the musical’s book, drawing heavily from ancient farces by the Roman playwright Plautus (c. 254–184 BC). The plot follows the adventures of the wily slave Pseudolus, who wants his freedom so badly that he will do anything to win it. That includes using all the age-old comic devices—mistaken identity, lying, dressing in drag, threats, deception—and, of course, singing.

The show also includes a bevy of beauties, a young hero and his love, the battle-ax and her henpecked husband, their hysterical servant, a procurer, a befuddled old man in search of his missing children, a vain general, and three clowns who play multiple roles.

Forum was originally conceived as a vehicle for old-time comedians who had appeared in vaudeville and burlesque shows. Consequently, it relies on old-school comic devices, or “shtick” from that era. Think Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Phil Silvers – if you are of a certain generation. For contemporary audiences, think Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, David Allen Grier.

Students in lead roles include Stephan Jordan as the slave Pseudolus; his twin brother Antoine Jordan as Lycus, purveyor of courtesans; Josh Smith as Hysterium, the chief slave of a well-to-do Roman citizen; and Michael Zurawski as the young Hero, who falls in love with the virgin Philia, played by Nina Sharp. Professor Jason Rubin directs, and choreography is by Professor Polly Sommerfeld. Musical director Kate Bennett plays keyboard and is accompanied by Ian Trusheim on bass and Jake Deal on drums.

To reserve tickets ($8 adults; $5 students) call 410-778-7835, or email

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