Yesterday’s satire becomes reality in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

ON STAGE

What: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Where: Roxy Theatre, 2657 Quadra St.
When: Tonight through Aug. 11
Tickets: $22.50-$46.80 from bluebridgetheatre.ca or by phone at 250-382-3370

The Broadway reproduction of Fiddler on the Roof enjoyed such a run of success recently that its rights were pulled across North America, which meant the musical’s planned run with the Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre would not go forward this year.

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Fear not, song and dance fans: Blue Bridge artistic director Brian Richmond replaced the production with another beloved musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which opens its two-week run tonight at the Roxy Theatre.

The even-better news is that A Funny Thing happens to be a much better fit on several fronts, Richmond said.

“We’ve never done A Funny Thing before,” he said. “All I ever knew about it was the movie with Zero Mostel and all those great old-time comedians, Buster Keaton and Phil Silvers and Jack Gilford. This is a really funny piece. It’s way funnier as a stage play than the movie was.”

Richmond also likes the fact that the play, directed by Kevin McKendrick and starring Britt Small, draws parallels between the Roman Empire (where the musical is set), America of the early 1960s (when the original Broadway production was released) and the current political climate south of the border.

Discourse in the original that once played as farce has real consequences in today’s world, he said.

“I would like to say that misogyny and racism have disappeared, but they haven’t. A Funny Thing, being written in 1962 America, and based on an ancient Roman play by Plautus, it was very much on the creators’ minds what they were going to spoof, and they dealt with these ideas by making them absolutely ridiculous, by blowing them up. And, of course, we now live in a era, particularly in terms of American politics, where everything is absolutely ridiculous in that regard. Yesterday’s satire has become today’s reality.”

The upcoming run of A Funny Thing caps a successful year for Blue Bridge, which has nearly erased its debt, Richmond said. The company was close to going under in 2015, but a steady progression of quality productions has helped Richmond and his team build a growing subscription base.

The task of keeping Blue Bridge in the black often falls on the shoulders of Richmond, who splits his Blue Bridge duties with a teaching position in the University of Victoria’s theatre department. He took some chances this year and they paid off.

Blue Bridge’s current season was the first time in five years Richmond went with a five-show run, and the results were impressive. Billy Bishop Goes to War (October/November), Happy Days (April/May), The Master Builder (May/June) and Barefoot in the Park (July) ran the gamut between beloved classics and under-the-radar gems.

“Our audiences were willing to go that ride with us,” Richmond said. “A large part of our audience wants things like The Master Builder and the big dramas, and another part of our audience wants A Funny Thing or Barefoot in the Park. I’m trying to find that balance. I try to give people various things, because people have various tastes. This way, everybody gets something.”

Richmond hopes for more of the same with another five-show season in 2019-2020. “There is a far greater possibility that we will do more [five-show seasons] than we will do less. We are a semi-commercial little theatre company that doesn’t get a lot of government subsidy, so the only way to make money is to be constantly in front of our audience, either offering them shows to attend or offering donors opportunities to come along and help us on the ride.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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