It’s funny on a number of different levels,” says Jessica Rothman, director of 90 Miles Off Broadway’s latest community theater production, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Opening night is Thursday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m. Additional performances are on Friday and Saturday, May 1 and 2 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 3 at 2:30 p.m. The shows will be held in the auditorium at New Paltz High School on South Putt Corners Road, but the show isn’t a high school production. It’s actually “a little on the bawdy side,” Rothman says, calling it “kind of PG.” Fast, comic and with verbal and physical comedy, she adds, “It’s an awful lot of fun.”
The storyline follows the Roman slave Pseudolus scheming his way to freedom by playing matchmaker for his master’s son, Hero, who is smitten with the blonde and beautiful Philia. But of course, things don’t go at all according to plan, and the complications that ensue involve blackmail, funny disguises and long-lost children, while Pseudolus desperately tries to keep up with his end of the bargain.
Inspired in part by the farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus (251–183 B.C.) — who created what we would call today “stock characters,” says Rothman, recognizable character types — the show has elements of vaudeville, too. The title of the musical derives from the line that vaudeville comedians often used to use to begin a story: “A funny thing happened on the way to the theater…” The musical’s original 1962 Broadway run won several Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Author for a musical. (One of its writers was Larry Gelbart, who went on to fame with M.A.S.H.) It was made into a successful film starring the original lead of the musical, Zero Mostel, and has enjoyed several revivals, notably one starring Nathan Lane in the ’90s.
Director Rothman is new to 90 Miles Off Broadway but has an extensive career directing musicals and plays; everything from Shakespeare to classic American musicals. She has directed productions of “Forum” several times over the last 30 years. “It’s like an old friend,” she says. “I’m inspired by the cast, and they bring their own energy to the show. There are 90-Miles veterans and there are people who are new to 90-Miles along with some local high school and college girls; it really is a community-wide cast. And they range in age from 18 to 70-plus; that’s a great thing.” There are approximately 20 people in the cast with some playing multiple characters.
Lyrics and music are by Stephen Sondheim; the first show for which he wrote both, says Rothman. And while she never saw the original production on Broadway, she says she feels the company is being very true to what was written. “But in terms of interpretation, it’s our interpretation.”
The New Paltz-based 90 Miles Off Broadway has been providing community theater for more than 51 years now. The nonprofit produces a show each spring and fall and offers an annual Winter Cabaret and Children’s Theatre Workshop performance each summer. Auditions are currently being held for the summer children’s theatre production of “Rumpelstiltskin Saves the Day” to be performed in July, and auditions for the adult company’s fall production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” are in September, with November performances.
Tickets for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” cost $15 for general admission and $12 for students and seniors age 55 and over, available by calling Bright Beginnings at (845) 256-9657 or online at www.90MilesOffBroadway.com. Tickets will also be available at the door at each performance.