Don’t be alarmed if you see students parading around in their togas near Theatre Outback, a performing arts venue at Mesa Community College, this weekend — or next.
They’re likely cast members from a mature-theme piece of musical theater called “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which combines situations depicted in 2,000 year-old-plays by Plautus with vaudevillian comedy of more modern times.
It’s being performed by MCC’s music department Oct. 20-29. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was originally produced on Broadway by Harold S. Prince. The classic piece of musical theater meets farce features book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, plus music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
Seems a slave has been promised freedom in exchange for winning a young woman’s hand for his master — but nothing goes quite as planned. Along the way, audience members enjoy songs like “Comedy Tonight,” “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” and “That Dirty Old Man.” You can take the teens, but leave younger ones at home.
The MCC production includes a cast of 18, many of whom have a long list of credits. The program lists Sue Anne Lucius as producer, Jere Van Patten as director and Cathy Hauan as music director/conductor. Also two choreographers — Frank Cava and Jennifer Cava.
The original Broadway production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” — which opened in 1962 — earned several Tony Awards, including best musical and best book. Broadway revivals were staged in 1972 and 1976. There’s also a 1962 musical film version featuring the original Broadway star, Zero Mostel, know to many as Tevye in the original “Fiddler on the Roof.”
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is performed infrequently in the Valley, so Sondheim fans and students of musical theater should seize this opportunity to experience the work. Sondheim served as lyricist for both “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.” He’s earned an Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Also several Grammy Awards and Tony Awards.
Sondheim was both composer and lyricist for the musicals “Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Into the Woods” and more. Even those who fail to fawn over all things Sondheim should appreciate his contributions to the great American art form we call musical theater.
If you’ve never seen “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” attending the MCC production sounds like a fun way to up your musical theater I.Q. Just promise me you’ll leave toga time to the professionals.
Note: The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards solicit nominations each year from the general public and notable public figures, providing the opportunity to submit stories about teachers and professors who made a significant difference in their lives. Click here for details.
Coming up: Tevye tales, Fun finds at the Arizona Humanities Festival