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Still funny, centuries later

The 1962 Broadway hit A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum opens Thursday at Stage West.

By BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN
Published March 2, 2007


It's a mix of comedy, farce and plain ol' whiz-bang vaudeville, but every minute of it is for laughs.

It's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the 1962 Broadway show that gave composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim his longest-running show to date.

And it opens Thursday at Stage West Community Playhouse and continues the following three weekends.

"We're having a ball with it," said Peter Clapsis, who plays the lead role of Pseudolus, a conniving slave who bargains for his freedom in a most unconventional way.

Based on the 21 surviving comedies written by the ancient Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus, it has the stock characters that had 'em rolling in the aisles at the local amphitheater circa 200 B.C.: a dim-bulb hero (named Hero), a braggart soldier, a forgetful old man (named Erronius), a domineering wife (named Domina), a lecherous, aging husband (named Senex), sexy courtesans (one named Philia - say it fast), a friendly trader of beautiful slave women (named Marcus Lycus) and slaves who manage to outwit their masters.

Pseudolus hopes to trick Marcus Lycus into selling the voluptuous but air-headed courtesan Philia to his master, Hero, instead of the swaggering soldier Miles Gloriosus, to whom she is promised.

If Pseudolus pulls this off, Hero, who is smitten with desire for Philia, vows to give him his freedom.

"Pseudolus is my favorite role so far," Clapsis said. That's saying a lot; he's played the plum roles of the sinister Jud Fry in Oklahoma, the sweet-talking Jigger Craigin in Carousel and the mischievous leprechaun Og in Finian's Rainbow, among others.

Clapsis is also enthusiastic about his fellow cast members.

George Dwyer, whom he directed in the Agatha Christie mystery Black Coffee last season and in Guys and Dolls this year, plays Hysterium, the nervous slave of Senex, Hero's father.

"We played together in Table Manners; that's when we became friends," Clapsis said.

Nick Clark, the grandson of the late Irv Clark, a theater stalwart, plays young Hero. Ron Biedenkapp plays Hero's woman-chasing father Senex; Paul Wade (Charley's Aunt) is the lascivious slave-seller Marcus Lycus; and Stage West newcomer Leslie Richards plays the blustery soldier Miles Gloriosus.

Bob Pierson plays Erronius, the aging gent on an endless quest to find his long-lost children who fears to enter his own home because he thinks it's haunted; Melanie Wade plays Domina, the harridan wife to Senex and mother of Hero; and Stage West newcomer Brenna Williams plays the lovely virgin Philia.

Allen Voohees and David Stenger play various parts as the multipurpose Protean 1 and Protean 2. Courtesans are Leslee Starz as Panacea; Jennifer Clark as Vibrata; Ashley Jennings as Gymnasia; and Toni Berlinger and Jeanine Martin as The Geminae (Twins).

The show is chockablock with Sondheim tunes: the hummable Comedy Tonight; the hilariously lustful Everybody Ought to Have a Maid; Miles' comically bombastic Bring Me My Bride; the mocking Lovely that Philia sings about herself; Hysterium's I'm Calm, when he is anything but; and That'll Show Him, where Philia promises to think about Hero every time Miles Gloriosus makes love to her.

IF YOU GO

Music and laughs

What: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Where: Stage West Community Playhouse, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill.

When: Thursday and March 9-11, 16-18 and 23-25. Shows are at 8 p.m., except Sundays, when they're at 2 p.m.

Tickets: $18, reserved seating. Box office is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and an hour before each show. Call (352) 683-5113.