The Heights

Updated: November 02, 2015

Four men dancing in togas

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum On Stage This Summer

Award-Winning FMT’s Production Features Brassy, Jazzy Orchestration & Dynamic Pacing

The velvet curtain rises, foot lamps light up and old vaudevillians kick off every show with a traditional opening joke, “A funny thing happened on the way to…”

This summer, it’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum that will run July 23–Aug. 9 in the Smithwick Theater in Los Altos Hills. Staged by award-winning Foothill Music Theater (FM), the classic Broadway musical features music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove. FMT’s production is co-directed by Foothill College Music Instructor Milissa Carey and Michael Ryken, with musical direction by Katie Coleman. The production contains mature themes, and may not be appropriate for those under age 13.

“This show is laugh-out-loud funny, whether you’re in ancient Rome or 21st century Silicon Valley,” Carey says. “And, it’s Sondheim! If you’re a fan of musical theatre or a student studying this art form, you need to experience Sondheim’s masterful lyrics, music and storytelling live. This is the same artist who gave us treasures like Into the Woods, Sweeny Todd, West Side Story, Gypsy, Sunday in the Park with George and Company, to name a few. If you’ve enjoyed any of these shows, see Forum… to experience the magic that Sondheim, who many consider the most important lyricist of the 20th century, creates for his audiences.”

Actor in front of Greek columnFor the FMT production of Forum…, Carey and Ryken have created a fresh take that features brassy, jazzy orchestration, and a dynamic pace. “We’re using the best possible work that we can deliver—every note, every line, every costume stitch, every light bulb, every detail—to share this classic story with you,” Carey says.

Inspired by the farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus, the bawdy musical tells the story of the slave Pseudolus, who hopes to win his freedom by pairing off his master with a neighborhood beauty.

Carey assures that while created some six decades ago, Forum… is not a musty musical. “Although the show opened in the early 1960s, it continues to be performed in theatres across the country because at its core, it’s a classic. It’s that unique combination of great story telling, great music and great fun. It’s irreverent, bawdy and belongs in the pantheon of great American musical theatre,” she says. “Forum… capitalizes on old-fashion farce and slapstick comedy, and will give you the opportunity to spend two hours with maidens and courtesans and the senators and slaves who love them.”

Forum… is also live theatre, for which Carey says there are no real comparisons to other entertainment forms. “Every character and plot device on the sit-coms we love, owes its origins to the classic style of farce that’s at the heart of musicals like Forum…,” she says. “The show is also clever and offers classic themes of social commentary on status, true love and the innate desire of every human to be free. And like all live theater, it gives the audience the unique opportunity to become part of the show.”

Renown for its high standards, FMT productions deliver award-wining talent considered by many to be the best in the Bay Area. In addition to outstanding vocal and acting talent, FMT shows like Forum… offer sumptuous costumes, set designs, music, sound and lighting that complement each performance, giving the audience the rare opportunity to luxuriate in a high-quality live theatre experience.

For example, Foothill’s production of Forum… features a 10-piece live orchestra that creates a big sound that you’ll feel in your body. “Each performance is created live in that moment and is unique to that day,” Carey says. “The musicians and actors have rehearsed the material for more than 100 hours, but it’s the live performance that creates a unique relationship between the audience and the performers. It’s a mutual, shared activity where every person in the theatre is experiencing the play as opposed to passively watching the show on television.

What you may not know is that as an audience member, your reactions and responses to the performers actually guide what happens on stage. “The energy on stage and in the audience—there’s nothing like it,” Carey says. “Live art, whether it’s a concert, opera, play or musical is transformative. You are sharing the experience as a community. There is no substitute that can uplift and energize us like live art. It’s a rare opportunity that takes us away from computer screens and to-do lists. It’s also treating yourself to great entertainment that is worth your time and the ticket price.”

FMT’s Forum… features Tomas Theriot as Pseudolus, Ray D’Ambrosio as Marcus Lycus, Mike Meadors as Hysterium, Scotty Shoemaker as Miles Gloriosus, Anthony Stephens as Hero, Jenifer Tice as Domina, Jessica Whittemore as Philia, and Todd Wright as Senex. The show’s ensembles includes Vanessa Alvarez, Evelyn Chan, Sarah Hammer, Sara-Grace Kelly, Cami Jackson and Kay Thornton as courtesans, Sam Cori and Leslie Newport as eunuchs, Jason Engleman, Marc Gonzalez, and Kevin Reid as proteans, and Fredric Lagerbald and Sam Nachison as soldiers.

FMT’s Forum… runs July 23–Aug. 9. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m. Purchase tickets ($12–$32) online at or by phone at (650) 949-7360. 

Parking Lots 1 and 8 provide the best access to the theatre. Purchase permit for $3 at dispensers in any student lot. Dispensers accept credit/debit cards, one-dollar bills and quarters; bring exact change.

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