Ancient Rome meets love, music, farcical comedy and gaudiness in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” Theater 520’s fall musical production.
The musical, premiering Friday, December 2nd at 8 p.m. in the Tang Theatre in GW Hall, is directed by Kevin Heelan, Instructor in Theatre. Derek Jacoby, Instructor in Music will direct the live ensemble providing accompanying music.
Heelan and Jacoby coordinated to put together a production that involved much music.
Heelan said, “It’s a different situation. It’s not like regular play. You have to stage songs, and you also have to stage the dialogue scenes, so it’s a significant undertaking of time. You are coordinating the dialogue along with the music.”
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” features music composed by Stephen Sondheim, whose music is known to be complex and challenging.
“[Sondheim] is one of the greatest American composers ever. Doing his music is very challenging. Not only that, but in a show like this, you have to keep at a frantic pace. You have to be flying around,” said Heelan.
Andrew Schlager ’12, who plays Psudelous, one of the key roles, agreed. He said, “As Mr. Heelan says, it’s a huge athletic event. It’s a show with a lot of movement and running about, and there’s huge energy to the whole show. Everyone’s sweating, chugging Gatorades in the backstage.
Set in an Ancient Roman forum, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” a musical involving the members of three Roman houses and the love, conflict, tension and comedy between them, progresses rapidly.
The musical largely revolves around the deal made between Hero, played by Adam Brody ’14, and his slave, Psudelous, played by Schlager. In exchange for his freedom, Psudelous has agreed to help Hero obtain Hero’s love, Philia, played by Rebecca Cheng ’14.
Despite the budding love between Hero and Philia, conflict ensues because Philia is of the House of Lycus and deemed inappropriate by Hero’s parents. Further complicating the matter, Philia has been bought by another character, Miles Gloriosus.
Throughout “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” the characters regularly break into songs on the vibrant and whimsical set.
The collection of music ranges from jaunty tunes to songs of yearning and pining, all of which mirror the events of the play.
The accompaniment ensemble combines student musicians drawn from all areas of the student music groups.
Jacoby said that it was very challenging for the musicians to cope with the amount of music the pit orchestra has to perform throughout the entire show.
“The student orchestra has been probably learning more music than they’ll learn in anywhere else for a year, because it’s a lot more music than what they will normally have to perform,” said Jacoby.
As a finishing touch to the background music performed by the student musicians, the actors, or vocalists, have regular solo pieces they perform in between dialogues that complete the musical.
In one instance, Brody and Cheng perform a duet that illustrates the yearning between their characters.
Brody’s voice melds harmoniously with Cheng’s to create a classical piece with resonating soprano notes.
In bright pinks and oranges, the set features classical Roman architectural structures. It is also infused with contemporary aspects such as rubber chickens, pirate ships, glittery drapes and very suggestive and provocative doors.
Some examples of these suggestive props are doors with breasts protruding from them.
Surrounded by three buildings and placed in the center of the forum, a classical Roman statue of Venus stands in a fountain, bringing a realistic atmosphere of Ancient Rome to the theatre.
To complement the colorful and decorative set, the costumes also combine both traditional togas with flamboyant touches, including extravagant towering hairstyles and bejeweled accessories.
One character from the Ensemble is even adorned with imitation grapes, leaves and other sparkly elements.
Brody plays the main character Hero, the youth in love. Brody said, “[Hero] acts like a young boy and he’s sort of naïve about the world.”
Brody especially feels affectionate toward his character as he is able to relate with Hero.
“I like Hero because I love the songs he sings. Also it’s definitely a role that I see similarities between me and him a lot. It’s something that people can see me playing too [because] I can relate to Hero,” said Brody.
Cheng plays Philia, Hero’s love interest. Donning a silvery ornate hairstyle and a silky toga, combined with her sweet and dulcet voice, Cheng epitomizes her innocent and wistful character.
“Philia is a virgin that got sent in from Crete because [the captain] wanted virgins and purchased her for a lot of money. She’s not the smartest person, so she is very clueless for the entire show, which is really interesting,” said Cheng.
Schlager plays Psudelous, the protagonist slave, who, as Schlager describes, “is a cunning and wily slave who schemes to win his freedom.”
“I love everything [about my character]. It’s a chance to use all the great traditions of music theatre,” said Schlager.
David Tylinski ’12 plays Marcus Lycus, the owner of the provocative pink house of courtesans, including Philia. In a costume adorned with 70s inspired accessories and white high-heeled boots, Tylinski represents the gaudiness and immodesty of his house.
Tylinski said of his character, “[Lycus] is a lazy, grimy, womanizing, perverted bastard. All he cares about, essentially, is money. There is no clear villain in the show, and Lycus at times can be villainous. All the other characters treat him with absolute disgust. They are repulsed by his very presence, which I find very amusing. It means I get to have so much fun with the character.”
Tylinski continued, “[I pretend that I] can be a used car salesman as Marcus Lycus, except for he’s not the used car salesman, he’s a women’s salesman.”
Amidst the intertwined love relations is the clumsy and gimmicky character Hysterium, played by Anna Stacy ’13.
Stacy said, “[Hysteium] is the slave in chief who is very anxious and nervous, which is a big gimmick of the show, and he always seems to get hurt in weird ways.”
“[Something I like about my character is] that I get these big knee pads as part of my costume, because of all the sliding and falling I get to do, which is actually really fun. I like that I get excuses to be completely insane and crazy, and it’s okay if I get nervous because I’m supposed to be anyways. It’s Hysterium’s character,” continued Stacy.
Since the play features such a dynamic cast and a multitude of varying character personalities, many of the scenes are chaotic and full of vigor.
The distinctive characteristics of each and every character are portrayed more vividly through different actors’ creativity.
Cheng said, “I think what’s interesting is that we come up with new things everyday and some characters have gone through so many changes, and I think we really put our own twists in it.”
Heelan said, “I think we are doing extremely well so far. I’m very positive about it. You always have things that you have to clean up. You always have the scenes you have to go back and work on, and time here is always at a premium, but for where we are, we are in a very good shape.”
The cast and the directors seem to be very satisfied with what they have so far.
This success seems to stem from the huge collaboration among all the members involved in the show.
Heelan said, “[The cast] have been incredibly industrious and in most respects, it is an extremely inventive group of kids, and that’s what you need for something like this.”
The cast members also appeared to have thoroughly enjoyed working with Heelan, as Schlager puts into words.
“I’m grateful to work with Mr. Heelan. He just knows how to make actors feel good about themselves and feel good about their performance, and he has such an expansive knowledge of the theatre,” said Schlager.
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is open to the public and presents Friday, December 2 at 8:00 p.m., on Saturday, December 3 at 8:00 p.m. and on Sunday, December 4 at 1:00 p.m. in the Tang Theatre in GW Hall.