“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” the upcoming production by Juneau-Douglas High School, will be the second play the school’s theatre group will perform in Edinburgh, Scotland. They’ll be traveling there with the American High School Theatre Festival (AHSTF) which will be part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest performance arts festival in the world.
First, though, they’re performing the play in Juneau.
Director Michaela Moore said she’s giving the original vaudevillian play “a face lift” and recruited two of her students in an independent study to be her co-directors. For the cast and other contributors, it’s a huge undertaking.
The musical comedy is set in ancient Rome. The lead, Pseudolus, is a slave to Senex and his wife Domina and son Hero. To gain his freedom, Pseudolus offers to assist Hero in wooing his love interest, the courtesan Philia, who is the property of a great Roman captain. Shenanigans escalate out of control as Pseodolus tries to keep up with his own numerous ruses.
“We have set it in modern-day [times] and it’s set at the Fringe Festival, which is very exciting. There is this very popular street at the Fringe Festival called the Brass Market Street … We’ve made it look as much like that street as we possibly can,” Moore said, keeping in mind that the cast will have to transport all their props and sets to Scotland.
“The idea behind our story is this group of street performers … start to tell this story, this Roman story, and they get the crowd involved. The whole cast is on stage the entire time, popping up and becoming characters in this story then sitting back down and another popping up. We show the difference through masks,” Moore explained the play within a play.
This musical was chosen because it’s a Music Theatre International play (meaning they could retain the rights from January and February when the play is performed in Juneau and still have for rights for it in Scotland in August for the festival). Also, students enjoy putting on musicals and they tend to draw a crowd.
“It’s very vaudevillian in its comedy bits,” Moore said, making a comparison to Abbot and Costello’s infamous skit “Who’s on First.” “It’s extremely challenging for teenagers to memorize and pull off.”
She said there is a lot of interplay in the witty banter happening between characters, so if someone forgets their lines or ad-libs, it throws all the dialogue off. So far though, the cast is rising to the challenge, she said.
Assisting Moore in directing are two members of the cast: Dylan Rice as Pseodolus and Lydia Smith as Hysterium. Besides each co-directing, each has their individual responsibilities, like choreography and set design. Moore said she only gives independent studies to students who are serious about having a career in theatre.
Smith has been in plays since she was a small child, and it’s a dream of hers to continue with theatre in adulthood. In the recent JDHS play “Junie B. Jones,” she got the opportunity to choreograph a musical number. A little later, she choreographed half of the “Addams Family.” She’s choreographing the entire play this time, with assistance as needed from Moore.
“Art is good for everyone and can really transform your life,” Smith said on the message of the play. “…You get to see the transformation of what putting on this show has done for the street characters and you see how much the arts have enhanced their lives.”
Rice is newer to theatre, joining in high school, he played the lead Gomez in “The Addams Family.” Opening night of that play, he said he finally knew what he wanted to do after high school.
“I never really wanted to do anything after high school until last year when I was in my first play,” he said. “I just came like in love with it. The whole atmosphere, the people involved, it just made the entire thing for me.”
It’s Rice’s first time directing. He and a few other students made all the sets. He also makes needed props and has designed the entire lighting cue sheet.
“It’s definitely rewarding but it’s very stressful.” Rice said.
Both Smith and Rice are eager to put on the show and to go to Scotland in August. This is the second time JDHS will go; they also went last year. Only 50 theatre groups in the country gain the privilege of going, Moore said.
“I don’t think words can even describe how amazing it feels that we are going to be there, surrounded by people from around the world,” Smith said. “…Just getting to be in that atmosphere, and getting to perform for so many people, and just doing what we love to do, it’s just going to be incredible.”
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” will open on Friday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. at the JDHS auditorium. There will be a show at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 28 and on Feb. 3-4 with an additional 2 p.m. showing on Feb. 4. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and students and $10 for children.