Friday, August 31, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Something for Every-Bawdy

From the opening number (“Comedy Tonight”) theatre-goers will know what to expect from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: “pantaloons and tunics! Courtesans and eunuchs! Funerals and chases! Baritones and basses! Panderers! Philanderers! Cupidity! Timidity! Mistakes! Fakes! Rhymes! Mimes! Tumblers! Grumblers! Fumblers! Bumblers! No royal curse, no Trojan horse, and a happy ending, of course!” And this is just a sampling of the lyrical gymnastics provided by the genius of Stephen Sondheim who wrote the lyrics and music.
Everyone knows Sondheim as the foremost living composer/lyricist of American musical theatre. He studied music composition and lyricism literally at the knees of his neighbor, Oscar Hammerstein, III (of Rodgers and Hammerstein). He began his professional career in the fifties, providing lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy. Since 1957, Sondheim has written music and/or lyrics for nearly two dozen Broadway musicals, with the help of producer/director Harold Prince. Yet, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was the first Broadway blockbuster Sondheim enjoyed as both composer and lyricist, followed by a string of hits during the next three decades that included Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, and Passion.
Nearly everyone also recognizes the name Larry Gelbart as writer of television’s M*A*S*H, but not necessarily as co-writer of this stage comedy’s book. In the early days of television, Larry Gelbart surrounded himself with such comedic powerhouses as Neil Simon, Phil Silvers, Mel Brooks, Sid Caesar, and Ernie Kovaks. Gelbart can be credited with writing comedy scripts for radio, television, and film for over thirty years.
But who remembers the third member of this creative triumvirate that created A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum? Burt Shevelove collaborated with Gelbart on the libretto for the play back in 1962. Before venturing into such a project with the likes of George Abbott (director) and Hal Prince (producer), Burt Shevelove wrote and directed for the Broadway stage.
So it is safe to say that A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is both a forerunner of and follow-up to some amazingly successful entertainment careers. (In fact, who knew in 1966 when casting a young Michael Crawford as Hero that he would one day take Broadway by storm as the Phantom of the Opera.)
When A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum opened on Broadway in May 1962, it was premeditated to offend all. The burlesque qualities inherent in the play were stolen from a variety of sources that included ancient Greek comedy situations, Shakespearean language, stock characters of Italian commedia dell-arte, bawdy antics of Molierè’s comedy, and American vaudeville, providing ample gags, puns, farcical characters, and broad comedic schtick. One of the most entertaining aspects in the play is its cast of characters. Flesh-vendor Marcus Lycus sets out to sell his collection of courtesans, aptly named Tintinnabula, Panacea, the Gemini twins, Vibrata, and Gymnasia. But more comical than the courtesans are their guardian eunuchs.
Gelbart and Shevelove borrowed generously from the plays of Roman comedy writer, Plautus (circa 254 184 B.C.), borrowing openly from two of his plays, Miles Gloriosus and Pseudolus. In both A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and the plays of Plautus, Miles Gloriosus is a braggart soldier, while Pseudolus is a saucy servant. The characters, their situations, and the dialogue are as entertaining today as they were 2,000 years ago.
Ancient Roman theatre consisted mainly of comedies, presented in an aggressive style at parties, circuses, and animal and gladiator contests. Unlike the Greek comedies, Roman plays were relatively free of cultural rituals, religious odes, serious politics, or worshipful revelry, and they were most often accompanied by musicians. Adapting Plautus’s farcical comedies to the American musical theatre setting is particularly apt, as nearly two-thirds of Plautus’s witty repartee was originally set to music. Knowing this must have given Stephen Sondheim rich fodder for inspiration.
Typically, all of the action in Roman comedies takes place in the street; so scenes that logically would occur inside are placed out-of-doors. Eavesdropping is common, and many complications hinge on overheard conversations. One hilarious example of this occurs in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum when father and son find they both want the same young virgin, Philia. They sing a duet (“Impossible”) enumerating each others’ romantic weaknesses. Of course, neither can hear the other as they lament in song, “The situation’s fraught, fraughter than I thought, with horrible, impossible possibilities!” But the lyric show-stopper comes early in the show, when four grown men gather in the street to justify, through song, their collective needs for maid service. They assert that “everybody ought to have a maid! . . . Pattering through the attic, Chattering in the cellar, Clattering in the kitchen, Flattering in the bedroom, . . . Jiggling in the living room, Giggling in the dining-room, Wiggling in the other rooms, Puttering all around the house!” The choreographic possibilities are limitless, especially since the men seem oblivious to an audience!
Four years after the play’s Broadway success, the film version opened to mixed reviews. The film cast borrowed from the stage’s success, using Zero Mostel as Pseudolus (the slave whose story is being told) and Jack Gilford as Hysterium (Pseudolus’s sidekick). But the film also employed television’s popular comedian Phil Silvers as Marcus Lycus (local vendor of flesh), as well as then-new-comer Michael Crawford as Hero (the young lover). Yet, most poignantly cast was the aging Buster Keaton as the wanderer, Erronius. Keaton, who was known to filmgoers as the enduring star of silent movies, brought the film genuine Vaudevillian manners as a myopic old man searching for his children who were stolen by pirates years ago. Ironically, Keaton died before the film was released, guaranteeing this movie a place in film history archives as Keaton’s last.
However, slapstick and broad comedic acting in film are distinctly different from the physical antics used in live theatre. With no camera lens to zoom in on a particular bit of schtick, the stage actor must rely on his place within the ensemble, taking into consideration comic timing, audience reaction, blocking, and focus--all technical terms for the artist. And this stage business is what sets the director of live theatre apart from the film director: the spontaneity of the live experience must be sought in each performance. A good director will provide the means for that spontaneity to occur over and over.
Theatre-goers can expect great things from Theatre Charlotte's production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, including loads of laughs from a great script and score, an outstanding cast, recognizable music with witty lyrics, eye-pleasing sets and lighting designs, and top-notch direction that is sure to include the puns, gags, lechery, and raucousness for which the play has come to be known. You can expect “nothing that’s formal, Nothing that’s normal,” but “stunning surprises” and “cunning disguises”. This show has “something for everybawdy—comedy tonight!”

"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" runs at Theatre Charlotte September 7-24. Tickets are available through CarolinaTix at 704-372-1000 or

By Kelli Frost; Adapted from Utah Shakespeare Festival Insights, 1995

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Director's Note: The Odd Couple (Female Version)

Can two divorced women share an apartment together without driving each other  crazy? 

If you ask that question in a low serious voice, you may not be able to stop remembering the familiar melody from The Odd Couple TV series.

My introduction to the play was that TV show, where I loved how opposite the two friends were, and how the difference didn’t make a difference. Their situation, their friends, their whip smart dialogue are all indelible.  Maybe you’ve compared these iconic characters to friends in your own lives:  “You’re such  an Oscar,” “He’s a real Felix,” etc.  Fast forward to 1985, when the Good Doctor Neil Simon wrote this version to give, at last, an exploration of how women deal with divorce.  It also gave us women a chance to play these plummy parts.

At Kent State University (alma mater to me and Executive Director Ron  Law), I was enrolled in Freshman English and asked to write down on a little card  the top three American playwrights.  My professor was looking for Williams, Miller, and O’Neill, and scoffed at my card where I’d written only one name, the most prolific and consistently successful writer of our time:  Neil Simon. My respect has only deepened in working on this play.

On behalf of the uncannily good-looking cast and crew, we hope you enjoy peering through the windows into 1985, and our version of this Odd Couple.

—Jill Bloede
Director, "The Odd Couple (Female Version)" at Theatre Charlotte

"The Odd Couple (Female Version)" runs at Theatre Charlotte through June 24. Tickets are available through CarolinaTix at 704-372-1000 or

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Director's Note: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Any of my former students will tell you “Mr. Delamar loves words.”  Vocabulary games, meanings, sentences, writing, correct spelling.  Before retiring, this “old school” educator even held out for quality legible penmanship!  What better play for me to direct than this one, right?

Having worked as a NC public school teacher in elementary and middle grades for 30 years, I have a longtime respect, love and appreciation for young people working through the challenges of those ages. Children are searching for acceptance among their peers.  They want to be heard when they speak, to feel smart, to be taken seriously, especially by the adults in their lives.  Making their loved ones proud is a driving motivation.

With these themes explored so beautifully in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” I encouraged the actors playing the young spellers to “find the adult in the child” they are playing, not to be afraid to let the adult show through as they transform themselves to a much younger self.  As funny and quirky as they are—Chip, Schwarzy, Leaf, Marcy, Barfee, and Olive deserve respect and credence, just like all our children do.  These characters represent so much about growing up, a sweet innocence but also a realistic awareness of so much.

Thank you for going back to school with us at Theatre Charlotte.  Welcome to our “feel good” musical where the misfits are the stars and the winners are you.  Special gold stars for our four guest spellers for being such a good sport and playing with us on stage.

Dennis Delamar
Director, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at Theatre Charlotte

Theatre Charlotte's production of THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTAM COUNTY SPELLING BE runs through May 27 Tickets are available through CarolinaTix at 704-372-1000 or

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Theatre Thoughts: Our 85th Season

From the little village of Anatevka, Russia to a shabby New York apartment, all the way out on Avenue Q, with stops in 1960s Alabama, Victorian London, 1980s Georgia, and a professor’s home near a small college campus, Theatre Charlotte once again takes you on an incredible theatrical journey during our 2012-2013 season. Theatre has the power to change lives, and Theatre Charlotte has been changing lives since 1927—85 years and counting!

During its 85 years, Theatre Charlotte has produced over 450 main stage productions which have been seen by over half a million theatre-goers and utilized the services of thousands of volunteers onstage, backstage and front of house. For the 85th season, Theatre Charlotte will present five main stage productions and A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

After several years of trying to secure the performing rights, we finally are able to bring the beloved musical FIDDLER ON THE ROOF to our audiences. The performing rights had been on hold due to a successful multi-year tour which finally came to an end in time. At one time, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF was the longest running production in Broadway history, featuring a wonderful score highlighted by “Tradition,” “If I Were a Rich Man,” and “Sunrise, Sunset.” This timeless musical has always finished at or near the top of our annual audience surveys. Vito Abate directs, with Lisa Blanton choreographing and Ryan Deal as music director.

Our second production of the season is the regional premiere of John Ball’s IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, adapted by Matt Pelfrey. It is based on the award-winning book that inspired the Oscar-winning film (starring Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier) and the Emmy-winning television series (starring Carroll O’Connor and Howard E. Rollins). It is an intense adult crime drama that is set in a racially-tense community Alabama in 1962. A white man is murdered and the local police arrest a black stranger named Virgil Tibbs. It is discovered that Tibbs is actually a homicide detective from California and he becomes the community’s main hope in solving the brutal murder. This absorbing drama will be directed by Dave Blamy.

In December, Theatre Charlotte’s holiday tradition, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, is back for the sixth consecutive year. It is the classic tale of hard-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by the ghost of his late partner, Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. This year, A CHRISTMAS CAROL will be directed by Kevin Campbell, who has played Scrooge at Theatre Charlotte for the past five years.

Our January production is just “dad-gum” funny. It is Larry Shue’s THE FOREIGNER and is set in a fishing lodge in Georgia. An incredibly shy Englishman, Charlie Baker, is visiting the lodge and is too embarrassed to talk to anyone so he adopts the persona of a foreigner who doesn’t understand English. When the other people at the lodge begin to speak freely around him, he hears many things he is not supposed to-secrets both frivolous and dangerous. The cast includes the 70-year old owner of the lodge, a fraudulent preacher, his attractive fiancé, and other memorable comic characters. Paige Johnston Thomas, the director of Theatre Charlotte’s STEEL MAGNOLIAS, returns to direct this comedy.

In March, Theatre Charlotte is excited to present the tragicomedy, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? by one of America’s greatest playwrights, Edward Albee. It is the classic dark comedy in which George and Martha take part in a searing night of dangerous fun and games. The play inspired the award-winning motion picture starring Elizabeth Taylor as Martha and Richard Burton as George. With its razor-sharp dialogue and shocking ending, this was a landmark Broadway play that changed the face of American theatre.

The season concludes in May with AVENUE Q, winner of the Tony Awards for Best Musical, Score and Book. The cast includes puppets and humans and is a funny musical that tells the story of a recent college graduate who moves into a shabby New York apartment out on Avenue Q. It soon becomes clear that this is not an ordinary neighborhood. And be advised: this play contains full puppet nudity.

I think this is a fabulous line-up to celebrate our 85th anniversary season. We hope you agree and join us for all six of our productions. We at Theatre Charlotte are proud of our heritage and excited about our future—as we head toward 100 years of presenting outstanding theatre for the people of the Charlotte region.

Season ticket packages for our upcoming season will go on sale Friday, April 20, 2012.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Around the World with Theatre Charlotte: The Americas

Madison Culver is a former Charlottean turned globe trotter. Following her recent graduation from Johnson & Wales University, Madison began an embark around the world not dissimilar to the journey Phileas Fogg and Jean Passepartout take in AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS.

Unlike Fogg and Passepartout, however, Madison is in no hurry to complete a multi-continental race. This means she has been able to stop and see all the sights Fogg and Passepartout missed during their journey—and luckily for us, she is taking Theatre Charlotte along for the adventure by exclusively sharing her stories and photos with us, which we will post here weekly during our production of AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS.

To learn more about Madison, please visit Where The Wind Blows Now, the blog she started to chronicle her travels and help people find inspiration in the beauty of life.

Week 4: The Americas
The Americas--such a big place! From Costa Rica to New York, the Americas have captured my heart.

Costa Rica is everything one would think a hispanic country to be. Beautiful scenery, hot nights, spicy food, and dancing...of course. Spanish is a brilliant language; in fact, learning to speak it was probably my favorite part!

I could only imagine what New York was like when Mr. Fogg and Passepartout were there. I know for a fact it was far from similar to when I bounced along the streets of New York.

Check out what Mr. Fogg and Passepartout missed out:

from new york city... jaco, costa rica!

at it's finest. volcano arenal.

animal sightings in limón.

beach life, here in limón, is quite contagious.


cartago, costa rica's former capital city. its town center boasts a beautiful garden oasis.

zacero. this small town hosts interesting topiary arches and figures in its city center.

some of the faces that one will find in zacero.

i must have a thing for cemeteries. i always seem to find one, and once i'm there you can't get me to leave. this cemetery is 600 meters from my house, so i can visit it as frequently as i want.

black crow.

my hammock. where i choose to reside most of the time. let's see where the wind will blow us next...

Theatre Charlotte's production of AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS runs through April 1. Tickets are available through CarolinaTix at 704-372-1000 or