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Lafayette College Theater will present A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the Tony award-winning musical by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart (of M*A*S*H fame), with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, at the Williams Center for the Arts at 8 p.m. Feb. 28-March 3.

Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office, (610) 330-5009.

A brown bag preview of the show will be held at noon Monday, Feb. 26, at the Williams Center. Lunch may be brought or purchased for $3.

The rowdy and bawdy burlesque reunites the director and musical director from last year’s production of Working, Lafayette Theater Director Michael O’Neill and Tom DiGiovanni ’96, respectively.

Guest artist Vicki Neal ’85 is designing the scenery, and choreography is by Rusty Curcio. Lighting is by Richard A. Kendrick, costumes by D. Polly Kendrick, Parrott Designs, and sound by Timothy Frey.

Kimberly Corbett ’01 (Clifton, N.J.) is stage manager. Bob Hawkey ’01 (Hainesport, N.J.) is assistant director.

Fusing 20th-century American vaudeville with the third-century Roman comedies of Plautus, Forum premiered on Broadway in 1962. The original production, starring Zero Mostel and Jack Guilford, won Tony Awards for best musical, best book, best director, best actor, and best supporting actor. It was the first show for which Sondheim wrote both the music and the lyrics. A film version, directed by Richard Lester, was released in 1966. Forum was successfully revived on Broadway in 1972, starring Phil Silvers, and in 1996, starring Nathan Lane.

The opening number, “Comedy Tonight,” which was added in previews and turned the show into a hit, is one of the most recognized songs in Broadway musical history.

“The original idea in Forum was to combine the comedy of Plautus with the traditions of American burlesque by actually having veterans of that tradition, such as Zero Mostel, Jack Guilford, and Phil Silvers, play the principal roles,” says O’Neill. “One of the exciting things for me about our production is that I have the opportunity to introduce our students not only to Roman comedy, but also to the rich comic devices of American vaudeville and burlesque. This show is full of the oldest jokes and gags around, but they still work. It is rewarding to watch our students discover a kind of innocent humor, even in the play’s bawdiest moments, that is really foreign to their generation, which has known mostly the kind of smug comedy epitomized by Seinfeld and David Spade. From the first rehearsal, they all trusted the material without question. That is the sign of a great script.

“It is great to have Tom DiGiovanni ’96 back here working with the students both on the vocals and in the orchestra,” O’Neill adds. “Oddly enough, Tom had already been musical director for two other Sondheim shows before he even graduated from Lafayette — Assassins in 1993 and Sunday in the Park with George in 1995. He is an accomplished musician and a great example to our cast of what can happen when students take advantage of the opportunities we offer at Lafayette.”

Students enrolled in Richard Kendrick’s course Basic Stagecraft: Introduction to Technical Theater are working closely with Neal on set design, and with Kendrick in turning the design into a workable set. The choreographer, Curcio, is head of the dance program at Wagner College and has “an impressive resume of professional dance credits,” says O’Neill.

David Campos ’01 (Rochester, N.Y.) says the role of Pseudolus is one of the most difficult that he could attempt on stage.

“Pseudolus does exactly what his name describes,” says Campos. “He pretends to be a different person all the time, and it is mostly for the comical attempt to achieve his freedom. The show is a very fast-paced musical, with dialogue, monologues, music, dancing, and a lot of laughs. My role is especially challenging because of the constant interaction with many different characters between dance numbers and songs, while each time I am pretending to be someone different.”

“We have an enthusiastic cast, which is necessary for such a difficult and fun musical,” Campos adds. “This is going to be a huge production, and it is my opportunity to leave my mark on Lafayette College Theater. Participating in this show is right up there with winning back-to-back Patriot League soccer championships at the top of my list for most memorable experiences at Lafayette. This is something that can draw more students towards the theater.”

Campos says the opportunity to work under talented guidance is giving him a solid foundation for a future in performance. “I have every intention to continue my theater involvement, or perhaps just acting, and I also plan to pursue a career in music,” Campos says. “Along with developing my abilities and confidence on stage, I have the opportunity to do something else. What I mean by ‘something else’ is that there is only so much satisfaction that you can get from doing the same old routine of going to class, doing work, going to the gym, and going out with friends. The theater allows you to display a talent and a passion that otherwise you would leave bottled up and regret it. I can honestly say that I am going to leave Lafayette with no regrets, and that is primarily due to my theater involvement.”

Liza Zitelli ’02 (Bergenfield, N.J.) plays Philia, a virgin courtesan who is sold to an abusive captain and is in love with Hero, a young Roman citizen.

“The challenging part of Philia is that she is supposed to be quite lacking in the area of intelligence,” says Zitelli. “In one of her songs, ‘Lovely,’ I explain that, ‘I’m lovely, all I am is lovely, lovely is the one thing I can do. Oh isn’t it a shame, I can neither sew, nor cook, nor read or write my name.’

“She is, to contradict the motto of the new millennium’s woman, nothing more than a pretty face. The challenge is, despite ludicrously stupid actions, lines and lyrics, I as an actress must get the audience to like Philia. Even though she is stupid, she should be likeable. I’m trying to figure out how to portray her, keeping her comical and fun, but also revealing her charm and other redeeming qualities. It’s fun!

“Another challenging aspect is the comedy itself. Although I’ve played hysterical characters such as Big Mama in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, who had comic moments, those characters all were comical within a dramatic setting. I’ve never done straight-up comedy like this before, and delivering Philia’s lines in a natural way that will be inherently funny is a huge challenge. Also, the singing is exciting — Sondheim doesn’t write the easiest music!”

Zitelli says participating in theater at Lafayette has been a most enriching experience.

“I’ve met the best people, people with whom I relate very well and who share a passion for theater,” she says. “It is also relaxing and fun. Being onstage is what I love to do more than anything. It’s nice that I get to have so many of these opportunities here at Lafayette.”

Nicholas Groch ’01 (Havertown, Pa.) finds it difficult to balance his engineering curriculum, track and field practice, and play rehearsal throughout the day, but enjoys “the perpetual motion.” He’ taking on the role of a Protean in his first performance ever.

“Since the Proteans are more involved in the action of Forum, as opposed to the prose of the play, it also takes a lot of concentration to know where to go and when,” he notes. “I enjoy the idea of performing in front of audiences that’ll be laughing for about an hour and forty-five minutes. I also like the fact that I’ve finally made the time to take part in something that I’ve always wanted to experience.”

With his performance in Forum, Groch believes he has come full circle in his Lafayette experience.

“The arts, and especially the theater, were absent from my life up until this year,” he says. “I’m going to miss the time that I’ve spent here at Lafayette, and the production will be another wonderful memory that I’ll be able to take with me upon graduating in May.”

Beth Wynstra ’01 (Walnut Creek, Calif.), a member of the varsity swim team, became involved in college theater last year. She plays Gymnasia, an Amazon-like courtesan described in the play as “a giant stage in which a thousand dramas can be played.” (Wynstra, who is six feet tall, says her height suits that description.)

“Our director, Michael O’Neill, has expressed that he wants all the characters in Forum to be cartoon-like,” she says. “This is a challenge for everyone in the cast. I have found that developing a character for a musical is very different than developing a character for a play. Characters in a musical have to be ‘larger than life.’ It’s challenging, yet exciting, to create a character that is animated and who has those ‘larger than life’ qualities. I have not danced in several years, so it has been fun learning all the choreography that my role requires. We have a talented choreographer working with us, and he has created beautiful and unique dances for the show.”

While Wynstra has not performed in a musical since high school, she believes Forum is an excellent opportunity for audiences to see some of Lafayette’s veteran actors.

“There is so much rich talent in our cast, and it is a wonderful experience to be able to combine the cast’s musical, dance, and acting abilities into one piece,” she explains. “ I think Forum is a perfect show for all audiences. The dialogue and the song lyrics are so clever and funny, that even we as a cast find ourselves laughing hysterically at rehearsals.”

Participating in theater at Lafayette has been an important and memorable experience for Wynstra, now in her second show under the direction of O’Neill, who also has instructed Wynstra in three theater courses.

“Michael’s patience, knowledge, and passion for the theater have led to some outstanding productions here at Lafayette,” she says. “I have learned so much from Michael as a student of drama, and as an actress. To mount a production here at Lafayette takes the efforts of many people. We all get the same sense of group achievement and deep satisfaction when the finished product is a success. That is one of the most rewarding feelings I have ever experienced. I have had the opportunity to work with so many different and talented people through Lafayette College Theater productions. Many of the fellow actors I have worked with have become some of my closest friends off-stage.”

The cast includes:

Seniors David Campos (Rochester, N.Y.), Susan Donnelly (Philadelphia, Pa.), Kate Edlestein (Caldwell, N.J.), Nicholas Groch (Havertown, Pa.), Andrew Platt (West Chester, Pa.), Kristen Pompizzi (Upper Darby, Pa.), Beth Spitalny (Chappaqua, N.Y.), Dwayne Thomas (Brooklyn, N.Y.), and Beth Wynstra (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

Juniors Rebecca Novia (New Canaan, Conn.), Simon White (Upland, Calif.), and Liza Zitelli (Bergenfield, N.J.).

Sophomore Josh Brodsky ’03 (Needham, Mass.).

First-year students Ryon Clarke (East Thetford, Vt.), Jeremy Deaner ’04 (Madison, Wisc.), Rachel Glover (East Greenwich, R.I.), Jonathan Schecter (Mount Kisco, N.Y.), and Stephen Tanner (Florence, Ala.).

Categorized in: Academic News