A ‘Funny Thing’ then is a ‘Funny Thing’ now

By Tom Weber

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

It’s a classic from the classical era.

Well, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" is a classic Broadway musical.

But we’re mistaken to think it’s only about ancient Rome, said Greg Miller, who is directing the upcoming production of the show at Rochester Civic Theatre.


"If the material is good to begin with, it’s timeless," Miller said.

In this case, the material must be good. "It’s probably one of the funniest musicals I’ve ever seen," he said. "It still makes me laugh in rehearsals."

The play is based on the writings of the Roman playwright Plautus, who lived from 251 B.C. to 183 B.C. Plautus was the first to write comedy for and about the common man.

"People laughed at his characters knowing full well they were laughing at themselves," Miller said.

Amazingly, those characters are still with us 2,200 years later. "Plautus gave us all the stock characters who populate our sitcoms," Miller said.

Which brings up an interesting coincidence. Larry Gelbert, writer of one of the greatest TV sitcoms, "M*A*S*H," co-wrote "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." The musical’s songs, meanwhile, were written by Stephen Sondheim.

When the play opened on Broadway in 1962, Zero Mostel had the starring role, which had first been offered to Phil Silvers and Milton Berle. The show swept the Tony Awards, and Mostel went on to star in the film version.

At Rochester Civic Theatre, Jerry Casper has the lead role. Music director Jan Matson will lead a 10-piece orchestra, with vocal direction by Jennifer Taylor. Miller also promised "great scenery. It’s a little bit of a skewed version of Roman stuff."


Between giggles, Miller added, "This show is still playing just as funny as in the ’60s."

He didn’t specify if he meant the 1960s or the 60s B.C.

If you go

What: "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."

When: Opens Friday and is presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 4.

Where: Rochester Civic Theatre, 20 Civic Center Drive S.E.

Tickets: $22 adults, $19 senior citizens, $12 students. (507) 282-8481.

There will be a pre-show reception at 7 p.m. opening night with live music and complementary appetizers. Following the performance, the 2008-2009 season will be announced. Toga dress is welcome.

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