Roman-inspired musical to bring laughs to campus

Slapstick humor, crude jokes and absurd thrills abound in this semester’s third production from the Sam Houston State University department of theatre and musical theatre.

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is the first musical presented this semester by SHSU theatre. The show is a different style production from the department’s first two shows, according to the shows director and associate professor of voice and musical theatre Laura Avery, D.M.A.

“Its [difference] goes beyond just being a musical,” Avery said. “It’s musical comedy, going back to the earliest part of the form. It’s the earliest version of the musical as we know it in this country, so lots of slapstick, lots of jokes.”

The show is known for its ‘face-paced farce’ style, with its title lifted directly from the common vaudeville line “a funny thing happened on the way to the theater.” Rich in slapstick, the musical will present a humor throughout the production, according to Avery.

“It’s based in the Roman-Greek style of comedy, which is crude and kind of bawdy,” Avery said. “We’ve tried to make sure we were true to that and honored that style as well. It’s very different. There’s not realism. There’s not room for serious responses to things. It’s all very clownish, very big-faced and [shocking].”

Avery said the show is not meant to a transformative experience, but pure entertainment.

“It goes back to singable tunes, just great fun and laughter,” Avery said. “There’s not anything that makes you stop and think and ponder. There’s not any moral issues or struggles that leave you transformed in this show. You just go away fulfilled and joyful and happy.”

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was written by Burt Shevelove and creator of M*A*S*H Larry Gelbart.

Inspired by the comical work of ancient Roman playwright Plautus, the musical follows a clever Roman slave, Psuedolus (played by senior musical theatre major Ryan Smith), attempting to earn his freedom from his master, Hero (junior musical theatre major Nathan Wilson). Psuedolus must work to win the affection of Philia (senior theatre major Connor Lyon) for his master.

The show features music and lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim, who wrote for several famous works such as “Sweeny Todd” and “West Side Story.”

The musical’s orchestration calls for a relatively expansive orchestra, according to Avery. SHSU’s production features an orchestra composed of freelance musicians from Houston.

“There are certainly shows whose orchestration is band,” Avery said. “There are other shows that call for a much more expansive orchestra. We have a reduced orchestra down stairs. The show actually calls for more than we have. We still have a nice ten-piece orchestra downstairs. It’s very different for the actor to get used to being with live musicians so we do our best to make sure we do that.”

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” won the Tony Awards for best musical and best author of a musical during its original Broadway run in 1962. The show was revived on Broadway in 1996, with the lead role starring Nathan Lane.

Student design trumped faculty design in this production as students took charge in the majority of the design roles in the show, according to Avery.

“We have one faculty designer on the production, the rest is all student,” Avery said. “It was all very student based. The ratio of student to faculty on this one is much bigger student involved.”

Performances will be held in the University Theatre Center’s Erica Starr Theatre between Nov. 12 and 15

Evening performances begin at 8 p.m., with house open at 7:30 p.m. A Saturday matinee will show Nov. 15 at 2 p.m., with house open at 1:30 p.m.

Tickets are available at the University Theatre Center Box office or at 936-294-1339.

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