‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’: The Civic returns triumphant with zany comedy
And we’re back! On July 24, the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre opened its first show at the Arts United Center in nearly 18 months.
Our talented and dedicated local theaters have continued to stay active in this bizarre time of the pandemic by producing online Zoom shows, by performing outside, and by doing things in 2,500-seat houses but only seating 500 people.
I’m proud of the resilience our theater community has shown in these very tough times, but for me, theater means sitting shoulder to shoulder in a dark room with other human beings, most of them strangers to you. It means doing the delicate dance of wrestling control of your armrest, and then maintaining that control for two or more hours, all while trying not to seem rude to a person you don’t know.
I didn’t know it until Saturday, but I have missed all these things. I smiled fondly as someone seated near me spent 60 seconds unwrapping a mint, thinking somehow the longer they fiddled with cellophane, the less noise it would make.
What I miss most is sharing a laugh and a tear with not only those you came to the show with, but also the nameless, faceless people you’ve never met who are in the same dark room. I missed the joy of combining our collective humanities in the dark to become a powerful thing: an audience!
The Civic Theatre kick-starts the joy of live theater with a madcap romp in their new production of Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (known by most of us as simply Forum).
Adapted from the Roman comedies of Plautus written some 2,200 years ago, the zany comedies still provide basic storylines for much of our contemporary entertainment. The jokes in this script crackle with wit, rich with punchlines to jokes that make you laugh even when you see them coming.
The book was written by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, the latter best known for creating the film Tootsie and TV’s M.A.S.H. Both men cut their teeth during the 1950s golden age of television, creating sketches for such classic variety shows as: The Red Buttons Show, (Sid) Caesar’s Hour, and The Art Carney Show, to name a few. Add one of Sondheim’s most hummable scores, and the table is set for a great night in the theater — not to mention, the Civic’s cast feasts on the material.
Leslie Beauchamp once again tackles American musical theater genius Stephen Sondheim for the Civic as both director and choreographer. However, this Sondheim is a very different beast from her last production, Sweeney Todd, a dark morality tale with operatic overtones.
Beauchamp is part of an unofficial company of people who have brought five Sondheim productions to local theaters over the past several years. This extremely talented family of performers is driven on the wild ride in Forum by Brad Beauchamp as Pseudolus, a clever slave who never met a scheme he wouldn’t try if it meant getting his freedom.
Along for the ride with Beauchamp is a wealth of local talent you’ve certainly seen on stage before if you go to theater in Fort Wayne, including Todd Frymier, Suzan Moriarty, Christopher J. Murphy, Gary Lanier, Jordan Gameon, Quentin Jenkins, Ren Moore, Chris Rasor, Heather Closson, Jordan Fletcher, Emersen Connor, Celine Jenkins, Anya Smead, Capril Parrish Williams, Darby LeClear, and Michael Bartkiewicz. Each actor is worthy of a paragraph extolling their great work.
Although space is limited, a special shoutout goes to Larry True who returns after years of absence from the Civic to masterfully play a small role. It was a thrill for those of us who grew up watching him on the Civic stage.
It’s also great to once again see sets by Adam Fletcher, costumes by Angela Sahli, and lights by Corey Lee who, as tech director, is also tasked with the realization of what we see on stage. And finally, Brandon Porter, the music director for this show who cut his teeth on Fort Wayne stages as a child, now should be a fixture with Civic for many years to come.
The show’s opening song promises the audience “something for everyone, a comedy tonight.” They delivered on opening night and I am confident they will continue to deliver Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Aug. 8. Catch a performance and join the fun — there is nothing like live theater!