A funny thing happens when a farce set in ancient Rome mashes up with musical theater—the result is the Tony Award winning "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," being presented by West Virginia Public Theatre July 1-10 at the Metropolitan Theatre in Morgantown.
"It's a big, broad musical comedy full of song and dance, showgirls, pratfalls and romance," said Lee Blair, co-artistic director for West Virginia Public Theatre and the production director for "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."
Inspired by the farces of Plautus (251-183 BC), the Stephen Sondheim musical comedy tells the bawdy story of a slave named Pseudolus and his attempts to win his freedom by helping his young master Hero, woo the girl of his dreams Philia.
When Hero confides in Pseudolus that he is in love with Philia, a courtesan in the House of Lycus, Pseudolus seizes the opportunity to help Hero when the young maiden's love in exchange for his own freedom. But the two men soon discover that Philia has been sold to renowned warrior Captain Miles Gloriosus and he is expected to claim his prize very soon.
But Pseudolus, an excellent liar and complete conniver, will stop at nothing to make sure the lovely Philia winds up in the arms of his master.
"Pseudolus will do just about anything to get himself out of servitude," joked Blair.
Playing Pseudolus is Matt Henerson, whose stage credits include "My Fair Lady," "Woyzeck, "Serrano the Musical" and the first national tour of "Flashdance the Musical," to name a few; as well as television and film credits that include "Modern Family," "The Bernie Mac Show" and "Ticking Clock." Henerson is a member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors, Stage Managers in the United States, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
With mistaken identity, puns, potions, slamming doors and satirical comments on social class, the plot of 'Forum' displays the absurd and highly exaggerated classical elements of a farce.
"The show is based on the stuff of Roman comedy. You have low brow humor. You have characters disguising themselves as one another. You have these unimaginable events where hysteria ensues and on top of that it's a musical," said Blair.
Blair is an Associate Professor of Acting with West Virginia University where he has directed productions including "Arabian Nights," "Cabaret," "Guys and Dolls" and "Lend Me a Tenor." His career as an actor has included works off-Broadway, off-off Broadway and regionally with West Virginia Public Theatre, Greenbrier Valley Theatre, Emelin Theatre, Hippodrome State Theatre and Alhambra Dinner Theatre. He is an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and a member of Actors’ Equity Association.
As a director, Blair has helmed productions at Greenbrier Valley Theatre, Mountain State Repertory Theatre, Duplex Cabaret Theatre, Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts and St. John’s University/College of Saint Benedict. He has also previously directed 'Forum' and starred in it as well.
Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1962, 'Forum' was Sondheim's first Broadway musical. Among the songs in the score are "Comedy Tonight," "Love, I Hear," "Free," "Lovely," "Pretty Little Picture," "Bring Me My Bride," "Dirty Old Man," and "That'll Show Him."
"This is the first show that Sondheim wrote both the music and the lyrics for. That historical aspect that it was his first lets us see an evolution in his composition," Blair said. "And because it's a show based on Roman comedy, the lyrics are witty and the music is uptempo."
In casting the show Blair, ended up doing a little gender bending, with traditionally male roles going to women and vice versa.
"The choice for gender-blind casting, when it works within the story of the play, opens up new opportunities. To have Lycus played by a woman as the 'Merchant of Love' changes some of the character's relationships with others but adds a new dimension throughout the musical. I hope the audience appreciates that choice."
W.V. Public Theatre presents "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"
When: 7:30 p.m. July 1, 2, 10; 2 p.m. July 2, 3, 9; and 1 p.m. July 6
(preview performance 7:30 p.m. June 30)
Where: Metropolitan Theatre, Morgantown, W.V.