Apple Hill Playhouse returns to Sondheim’s classic ‘Funny Thing’
Apple Hill Playhouse revisits one of Stephen Sondheim’s classic Tony Award-winning musicals with its production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” running July 25-Aug. 4.
Set in ancient Rome, the musical focuses on the efforts of a slave named Pseudolus (Nathaniel Yost) to win the hand of a beautiful courtesan, Philia (Vanessa Clarke-Deaver of Greensburg), for his master, Hero (Troy Dinga), in exchange for his freedom.
The show hasn’t been a regular on the community theater circuit of late, but Sondheim’s musical score and witty dialogue by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart make it worth checking out, according to the Apple Hill production team.
It originally had a two-year run on Broadway from 1962-1964, winning Best Musical and Best Author (Musical) Tony Awards, with Broadway revivals in 1972 and 1996. It was made into a movie in 1966 starring Zero Mostel, the original lead of the stage musical.
Show must go on
The Delmont theater company experienced some unanticipated last-minute cast changes in preparing for its production, but its director and actors stepped up and are eager to put on a great show.
For director Erin Stetor-Seaberg, the greatest challenge has been filling in cast positions and getting the musical up and running in a short time span.
“The cast is working so hard getting their lines learned and doing their choreography,” she says.
Stetor-Seaberg also serves as choreographer for the musical, a position she also held for a production of “Forum” at Community College of Allegheny County South Campus Theatre.
“I hold this show near and dear to my heart,” she says. “The fast pacing, the comedy, the characters; I absolutely adore this show.”
The Apple Hill cast features Dean Morris of Saltsburg as Hysterium, a character he describes as an obedient and frantic slave to Senex (John Paul Ritchey of Greensburg) and Domina (Alyssa Bruno Walls of Apollo) and a reluctant partner to Pseudolus (Yost), who is constantly hatching schemes to win his freedom.
Morris played his character in a previous production of the musical on the Apple Hill stage.
“The first was in the mid-90s, when some of these cast members were still in grade school,” he says. “I may be running a little slower in the chase scene, but thrilled for the chance to play this comedic role again.”
Alyssa Bruno Walls also is returning to Apple Hill after several years.
“Domina is typically played by a woman who is about 10-20 years older than me,” she says. “There was a big challenge in finding the character. I had to learn to draw on my own strengths and not ‘act older’ or more mature.”
An extra incentive for auditioning for “Forum” was the opportunity to spend time with her husband, Jesse Walls, who is playing percussion in the pit orchestra for the musical.
“It’s always a special treat when we are able to work together, because we are often going in opposite directions with our respective shows,” she says.
The cast also includes Alexis Caldwell of Leechburg, Vanessa Clarke-Deaver and Ken Cooper of Greensburg, Ron Ferrara of Vandergrift, Amanda Gaines-Borders of Monroeville, Carolyn Jerz of Murrysville, along with Joel Knepshield, Nick Knopka, Christine Lamanna and Kacie Miller.
Michael Busijia is musical director and Elizabeth Yarnot is stage manager.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.