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Forum for funny: Valley Center Stage’s first official musical is a goofy Roman classic | Photo Gallery

Dylan Cook and Chelsea Henak, as Hero and Philia, in a scene from “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” on stage this week at Valley Center Stage.  - Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo
Dylan Cook and Chelsea Henak, as Hero and Philia, in a scene from “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” on stage this week at Valley Center Stage.
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

Valley Center Stage manager Gary Schwartz is an actor, producer, director, teacher, and voice artist, but an oracle? Maybe not, but a key decision he made in bringing the theater’s latest production to life is proving to be prophetic.

His choice for directing and starring in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” was Alan Wilkie, a man who, like his character Pseudolus in the show, gets things done, no matter what lengths he must go to, or how silly things get.

“So Comedy Tonight is tomorrow?” Wilkie asks choreographer Krista Erickson, at a rehearsal, “And the finale’s tomorrow? When’s Bring Me My Bride, tomorrow?”

It’s 10 days before opening night, and one of the first rehearsals  of the full cast and crew, so no one much notices the comical conversation — the room’s too full of people, conversations and a steady stream of jokes.

“The Proteans are the dudes, and the courtesans are the girls,” actor Randall Scott explains. “And we make the show,” adds Scott Friedman, a fellow Protean in the cast.

Ed Benson reluctantly admits that he’s playing Senex, the dirty old man archetype. “Yes, after so many years, they know me,” he sighs.

A group of courtesans, after an impromptu song and dance greeting of another actress, announce “oh, yeah, we twerk in the show!”

Oh, no, they don’t. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was first produced in 1962, so the risqué humor it does have, is the risqué of five decades past.

“I’ll say it’s bawdy, because that’s the word they use, but it’s not dirty,” says Benson. In a word, he would describe it as “Hilarious… It’s a lot of different kinds of humor, but it really reminds me of vaudeville… there’s slapstick, and inside jokes… just constant humor, and really good songs.”

“Forum” is a musical — Valley Center Stage’s first “official” musical says Schwartz — and long overdue, says Lesleyann Schecterson.

“I’ve been waiting for a musical for 10 years! I tell Gary every year, ‘you need to do a musical!’”

Schechterson is a courtesan in the show, and a dancer since childhood. She and her family have been involved in the theater’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol,” and a few other shows, so she understands why musicals are more popular with audiences than they are with producers.

“It’s a big thing,” she said. “You’ve got to find the musicians — “and it costs a lot,” Scott interjected — “and you’ve got to have the music, you’ve got to have a choreographer, it’s a huge effort.”

“And it’s one thing to find actors, but then you need to find actors who can sing and dance,” added Scott.

“And there’s never a budget for a band,” says Terry Alaric, music director for the production.

With a live band, space will also be at a premium in the 100-seat theater.

“Forum” presented more than the usual musical challenges, though. The show was barely cast before cast and crew started dropping out. The theater wasn’t always available because another show was running at the time. The set had to be professionally built off-site, not by volunteers at less expense, and at least once, Wilkie thought he’d have to cancel the show.

His recap of the chaos reads very much like the classic Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, and Hope and Crosby comedies he used to cut school to go see: “I begged a buddy to come and play the villain of the piece and we were good. Then people started dropping. We lost three courtesans in the first week. We replaced two. Then we lost two more. We now had three of six. Gary was hitting all the high schools and dance studios in town. Nothing. So I asked the girls who were already cast if they could bring friends. We filled the three roles in a day. Then a Protean dropped. We were looking for a stage manager and had someone interested, so I moved him up to an actor and we had a full cast again….I’m sure it will be a very funny story a year from now, but right now I still wake up at 2 a.m. with chest pains.”

Pseudolus, Wilkie’s character in the show, has to use all of his resources to outwit slave owners and win the girl for his young master so he can win his own freedom. His efforts produce a riotous series of mistaken identities, slamming doors, and chase scenes — kind of like Wilkie’s efforts to put on this show.

“As the opening song says, ‘Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight.’ The show makes me laugh, hopefully it will make the audience laugh as well. I’ve never had more trouble getting a show open, but I’m thrilled that we actually pulled it off,” he said.

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” opened Thursday, May 1. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, May 8 to 10 and May 15 to 17, with an additional matinee showing at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 10. Valley Center Stage is located at 119 W. North Bend Way, North Bend. Visit www.valleycenterstage.org for ticket information.

 

"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," Valley Center Stage's new production opening Thursday, is the theater's first official all-adults musical, featuring (standing, from left) Dylan Cook (Hero), Chelsea Henak (Philia), Gary Schwartz (Lycus), René Schuchter (Hysterium), Ed Benson (Senex), and Craig Ewing (Erroneous), and kneeling, Ben Sanders and Scott Friedman as Proteans. Courtesy photo

René Schuchter and Alan Wilkie clown around on stage during a break in rehearsals.

Ed Benson, as Senex, stands second from left, surrounded by the comic relief Proteans of the play, Randall Scott, Ben Sanders and Scott Friedman. "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" opened May 1, and runs May 8 to 10 and May 15 to 17, starting at 7:30 p.m., plus a 2 p.m. matinee on May 10.

Getting goofy at a dress rehearsal for "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," cast members pose for a photo. Kneeling, Ben Sanders and Scott Friedman; standing, from left, Rachel Mills, Chelsea Henak, Randall Scott and Ed Benson.

In a preview of things to come, the courtesan Philia (Chelsea Henak) poses with her "double," Hysterium (René Schuchter). The comedic "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" runs Thursdays through Saturdays, May 8 to 10 and May 15 to 17, starting at 7:30 p.m., plus a 2 p.m. matinee on May 10.

Chelsea Henak plays the lovely, but dim-witted Philia in Valley Center Stage's production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" which opens Thursday. Henak enjoys the role, saying "It's a lot of fun, you get to clear your head, and not have a care in the world!"

Protean Ben Sanders gets ready for a piggyback ride from courtesan Rachel Mills in a farcical chase scene from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."

Since he plays a lecherous older man, Ed Benson practices his flirting with courtesan Rachel Mills.

Proteans Scott Friedman, left, and Randall Scott, center, being strangled by Senex (Ed Benson) are the comic relief in Valley Center Stage's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." Look for them to suffer through a lot of slapstick in this musical comedy.

Senex, played by Ed Benson, gives orders to his obsequious head slave, Hysterium, played by René Schuchter. "I live to grovel," says Hysterium.

Valley Center Stage's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" is a slapstick comedy about, among other things, the courtesan Philia, center, played by Chelsea Henak, and the many men vying for her affections—none of which are pictured here. From left, the Proteans are Scott Friedman, Ben Sanders, and Randall Scott.

Slaves René Schuchter as Hysterium, and Alan Wilkie as Pseudolous consult on how to accomplish their masters' opposing goals in a scene from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" at Valley Center Stage. The show runs May 8 to 10 and May 15 to 17, starting a 7:30 p.m., plus a 2 p.m. matinee on May 10.

The musical comedy "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" just wouldn't be the same without the comic antics of the Proteans, Scott Friedman, left, and Randall Scott, who rarely try to kill each other in the actual show.

 

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