A comedic musical romp entitled A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is the next production in the works at the Williams Lake Studio Theatre this season.
With a large cast of lakecity actors of all ages, this play set in ancient Rome tells a classic farcical tale about guile, romance and a burning desire to be free. Told primarily through song and dance, A Funny Thing seeks to offer lakecity audiences nothing more than a fun and enjoyable night out to the theatre.
This production is being realized by veteran WLST member and experienced director Sandi Alaric who has been involved with theatre in some way for close to 45 years of her life. Alaric said the theatre initially offered her an opportunity to “get outside of herself once in a while” but over time became a lifelong passion, especially in her adult life. She enjoys working with like-minded people who treat mistakes as opportunities to learn while in a place safe from judgment.
“I’ve done everything actually from stage managing, producing, choral direction, drama direction, musical theatre direction, just about everything except the technical side because I’m terrified of electricity,” Alaric laughed. “I’ve even hammered a nail or two in my life to build a set.”
For fun she recently counted the number of productions she has under her belt and it stands at around 54,20 of which involved some form of directorial work.
Alaric said the original premise of this musical was first written and performed in 191 B.C.E., or 2,200 years ago, in Rome itself. Entitled Pseudolus it was written by Titus Maccius Plautus and is one of the oldest examples of Roman literature to survive to the modern-day.
In the 1960s several of Plautus’ old farces inspired this Broadway adaptation with soaring numbers and witty dialogue written by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, who also worked on M.A.S.H. The music meanwhile was arranged and written by Stephen Sondheim, someone Alaric said is a well-known figure in the musical world.
The basic plot, Alaric explained, is that a young Roman noble named Hero has fallen in love on first sight with the lovely Philia, a virgin courtesan of the House of Lycus. Determined to find a way to be with her, Hero offers his slave Pseudolus, who has long wished to buy, cheat or earn his freedom, a chance to be free if he can connive a way to bring the two star-crossed lovers together. Laughter and mirth abound from there, Alaric said, as the audience watches this ancient con-man attempt to make the impossible possible.
“All his plots and schemes end up going awry at some point or another, so he’s constantly having to readjust and readjust and he, of course, pulls everybody into his plots in one way or the other,” Alaric said.
Alaric is working with a “diverse cast of characters” whose names, in the style of the Asterix comics, pertain directly to their characters temperaments and personalities. Domina, the mother of Hero, for example, is a stern imposing woman with a dominant personality, while Marcus Lycus the “procurer” of young girls is similar to a wolf with a predatory nature.
“The names are very important to the characters so anyone who has a working knowledge of the root of words can sort of pick out what they’re all about,” Alaric said.
Thus far she said the WLST has been meeting the challenge of this production really well, Alaric said, some casting issues aside. Now, however, she said she’s built a marvelous cast of 18 that is “very cohesive” who are working together very well.
In recent weeks when rehearsing she said actors who are not on stage have been laughing at their fellow cast mates performances, which she sees as indicative that they’re beginning to fire on all cylinders. Fellow actors, in Alaric’s opinion, can be some of the hardest people to entertain.
One of her biggest challenges as a director with this production, thus far, is the fact A Funny Thing is very vaudevillian in nature. She’s had to tell many of her actors to read up on vaudeville, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy and Keystone Cops as the elements of fast dialogue pantomime, song and dance have all had a major influence on this script.
“One of the hardest things with a cast that is basically very young is vaudeville. (They say) I’ve heard of that, but they have no concept of something so simple as a double-take, so I think it’s been sort of a learning curve for that cast in that they have had to do research on it,” Alaric said.
While the play could be edited or ad-libbed to include some witty political commentary, Alaric said her goal with this production is to simply invite people to the theatre so they can get together and laugh.
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She thinks this script combined with this cast will be the play the leaves audiences “still snickering” as they leave their seats.
Musically things are also progressing well thanks to the work of her vocal director Kirsten Lyons, who has helped her actors feel very confident in how they sound and what they’re singing. The choreography, meanwhile, is being put together and taught by the duo of Jennifer McPhee and Tanis Armstrong who are just fantastic, in Alaric’s opinion.
Their set, which will be “just gorgeous,” Alaric said, is being designed and built by Jeff Rankin and will include two balconies in addition to Roman-style designs. On Saturday, Dec. 14, in fact, the WLST has issued a construction call for anyone interested in helping to build the set, with pizza being provided at noon for volunteers.
A Funny Thing runs from Jan. 15 to Jan. 18, Jan 22. to Jan. 25, Jan. 29 to Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 with a matinée on Jan. 26. Tickets are currently priced at $15 for the first two nights, while from Jan. 17 on they are $20.
There will also be a wine and cheese night on Jan. 24 for $35 where audiences will be treated to libations and food at intermission. Tickets are on sale now online, at The Open Book and at Kit and Kaboodle.
Alaric said that tickets to the production would be a great idea for a stocking stuffer for those looking for a special gift for the thespian in your family.