'A Funny Thing Happened …' on Its Way to Radford
Fifty years since its Broadway debut, Stephen Sondheim’s musical tour de farce "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" brings its lovers, liars and lunacy to the Radford University campus on March 22.
Making its Radford University debut, "Forum" is a collaboration performance from the RU Department of Theatre & Cinema, drawing upon resources from the various disciplines in the university’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. The show’s original 1962 Broadway run won several Tony Awards, including best musical.
Set across one whirlwind day in ancient Rome, the show opens with a slave named Pseudolos trying to win his freedom by helping his young master, Hero, win the heart of the lovely courtesan Philia. But of course nothing is ever as easy as it sounds. What ensues instead is a cavalcade of follies, courtesy of a colorful cast of characters.
Working on "Forum" has been an exhilarating ride for Director Jennifer Juul, who is staging the musical comedy for the first time.
"It was Stephen Sondheim’s first big hit musical in which he wrote both the music and the lyrics, and it’s a huge privilege just to stage one of his creations," said Juul, who in addition to directing numerous performances at RU, is also an associate professor in the Department of Theatre & Cinema.
"It’s also a hilariously funny and farcical show, so we laugh a lot in rehearsal," Juul added. "I’m very excited about the opportunity it gives our students to work on a musical comedy too. It’s excellent training for professional theatre careers."
The production will feature guest musical director Mark Beall of Nashville and guest actor Steve Brown of Christiansburg, music director and classical music announcer for WVTF Public Radio, as the sardonic Roman senator Senex.
"‘Forum’ has been on my bucket list for a long time," said Brown, who at age 62 will be performing for the first time in a Sondheim show. "The lyrics are gorgeous. Obviously this man knows synonyms greatly—the internal rhymes are just incredible."
A veteran of the stage since 1967, Brown said playing the henpecked husband with a wandering eye is an actor's dream, as is working with the RU cast and crew, most of whom are 40 years his junior.
"I'm the dirty old man, of course," he said of his role as Senex. " ‘Forum’ is a really fun show, and I always wished I had a chance to do it because there's so much broad comedy."
Musical director Beall, a conductor, arranger and author who has directed more than 30 musicals, said he is eager to make his RU theatre debut with one of his favorite shows.
"Unknowingly, I had been preparing for this show for decades," he said, "having seen the Broadway production in the late ‘60s starring the great Phil Silvers."
Beall said he feels privileged to be working for the first time with student conductor Kevin Faller, sharing his wealth of experience, as well as the chance to work side by side once again with Juul, a longtime friend.
"I arrived at RU knowing very little about the programs and the caliber of students," Beall said. "I have been very pleased to find not only a very talented trove of students but also a dedicated, talented and very well organized production team."
Performances will be at the Pridemore Playhouse in Porterfield Hall on March 22, 23, 24 at 8 p.m., and on March 25 at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $8 for the general public, $5 for RU faculty, staff and seniors (55+), and free for RU students. A special rate for groups of 10 or more is available on request. Tickets go on sale the week of March 12 at the Porterfield Box Office, open from noon to 6 p.m. on weekdays, and by phone at (540) 831-5289.