June 14--SULLIVAN -- Not many of the musical comedies at Sullivan's Little Theatre-On the Square could be accurately described as "bawdy."
In its most recent seasons, the historic theater has largely favored big, bold musical romances and stage classics from the golden era of Broadway. And while "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" may be another 1960s classic, it's much more the riotous, farcical comedy than anything in recent memory, according to director Edward Carignan.
"I think it's one of the best-written books in all of musical theater," he said of the show, which opens Wednesday afternoon in Sullivan. "It's great because anyone of any age can laugh at this kind of farce. You never see a production of it without people laughing out loud throughout the show."
A resident of New York City and a first-time Little Theatre director, Carignan previously directed "Forum" in California. The show was one of his first-ever theater experiences as a 10-year-old, and still holds "a special place" in his heart. The comedy is a classical farce set in ancient Rome, detailing the attempts of an inventive slave, Pseudolus, to gain his freedom by winning the affections of a young woman for his master. It also features an early score by Stephen Sondheim, the first time the composer had written both the music and lyrics for a show.
"It's kind of an atypical score for Sondheim," Carignan said. "When he got to 'Forum' he realized that he needed a different sort of song to fit this kind of low comedy show. He was so used to writing these kind of meaningful, emotional story songs in most of his shows, that 'Forum' really set him working in a new direction. To work with the comedy, he front-loads most of the songs into the first act and then lets the physical humor and slamming doors and chase scenes take over in the second."
Playing the lead role is New York actor Robert Anthony Jones, a veteran of the character who has played Pseudolus in seven previous renditions of the show over the past decade. He describes the slave as quick-witted, smarter than his young master and absolutely determined to do whatever is necessary to win his freedom.
"He's very lovable and the audience can identify with his desire to win his freedom in any way he can, which also happens to be the most entertaining way possible," Jones said. "He'll do just about anything, but he's more comical than manipulative."
The actor has returned to the role numerous times and quickly realized that it was one he would continue to uncover new facets of each time her performed it. Like Little Theatre veteran Jack Milo as the lead character Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof," Pseudolus is someone of whom Jones has developed a closer understanding the more he plays him.
"The show is such silly fun to do," he said. "Once I played Pseudolus, I knew it was a role I could do well throughout my career and use to grow as an actor. I've learned something new every time I've played him."
Like all shows in the theater's summer season, there will be plenty of song and dance numbers, but for once, Carignan says comedy is going to come first.
"We have a fantastic cast of comedians who really understand the style of humor," he said. "It's kind of crude, but not crass. I think most people's grandmothers would still laugh at all the blue jokes. You should come prepared to just laugh your butt off for two hours."
(c)2013 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.)
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