'Forum' offers Roman jokes

Those who enjoyed the dark atmosphere of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" might be in for a surprise if they expect the playwright's comedic musical, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," to be of the same breed. The performance, presented by UNC's Pauper Players, starts today and runs through April 24. Although Sondheim wrote both musicals, the cast and crew of "Forum" said their performance will stand in stark contrast to "Sweeney Todd." "I think 'Forum' stands on its own from 'Sweeney Todd,'" said senior Katie Curtis, the show's producer. "It's a very different show." The play is set in ancient Rome and centers around a freedom-loving slave named Pseudolus, who attempts to win his freedom by helping his master win the affection of a woman. The catch is that the woman has been promised to another man. The ensuing events in the play are full of witty antics and songs with titles such as "Comedy Tonight" and "That Dirty Old Man." "I think that a lot of the dances are hysterical," director Chris Dorman said. "It's always been one of my favorite musicals. I wanted to see how I could fit everything together." Curtis noted that the play contains a lot of slapstick humor, including a chase scene in which characters appear and run off the stage in quick succession. "It's been coming together really well," said freshman Adam Slater Lawrence, who plays Pseudolus. "All the actors are doing everything they can to make it hilarious." And that ability of the play to entertain and make people laugh is one of the main reasons Lawrence said he auditioned. "I wanted to have a good time, and the cast are a really open and warm group of people," he said. Dorman said efforts to keep things fresh on stage, and the nature of the play itself, often cause the cast to roll with laughter during rehearsals. The role of director has been a "big learning experience" for Dorman, who said he now appreciates the work that is required to go into a production. "I've only really been on the acting standpoint," Dorman said. "I'm trying to play with new things but it's easy to let (the cast) go at it. It produces a really natural result." And Curtis had nothing but praise for Dorman and the rest of the cast. "Chris brings so much that's different and unique," Curtis said. "The process is very collaborative and dynamic and we have a very talented cast. The actors really get it." As a result, the play is geared to capture the audience's attention through comical dances and music Curtis said has "a lot of substance and depth." Promoting Pauper Players and its accomplishments this school year, specifically with "Forum," is a particular goal of Dorman's. "I want the audience to become avid fans of this organization," Dorman said. "It is a great night's entertainment." Contact the Arts Editor at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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