"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" is final show at historic theater

mclear@bradenton.comFebruary 21, 2013 

He's supposed to play a classic buffoon in a classical comedy, but Denny Miller gets teary-eyed just thinking about it.

"I don't know how I'm going to make it through that last show," Miller said. "It's going to be very, very difficult for me."

Miller, who has been associated with Manatee Players for more than 30 years, plays Erroneous in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," which opens tonight. It will be the final show in the 63-year history of the Players' original theater. It's a broad, madcap comedy, but there's an undercurrent of sweet sadness in the rehearsal process, Miller said.

"One thing I've noticed is that every night somebody says, 'Well, this is the last time we'll do this,' " he said. "Last night was the last dress rehearsal, or actually the first of the last series of dress rehearsals. Wednesday will be the last preview and Thursday will be the last opening night."

There's a lot of sadness, Miller said, but no regrets. The Manatee Players are gearing up to move into their spacious and opulent new digs. The new home will provide better working conditions and greatly enhanced technical capabilities.

Meanwhile, though, there's a full month of theater ahead in the old space. Tickets are selling fast for "Forum."

"After 62 years, the curtain is coming down for the final time, and a lot of people want to be part of it," said Bob Trisolini, who's directing and choreographing the show. "Some of the performances have sold out, and we haven't even opened yet."

It's a pretty safe bet that some people are more interested in seeing the curtain rising on "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" rather than the curtain closing on the historic theater.

"Forum" premiered in 1963 on Broadway and has never lost its appeal with audiences. It's had two major Broadway revivals, it became a highly regarded movie and it's been popular with theater companies across the country ever since.

Its roots actually go back much, much further. Stephen Sondheim based the show on the works of Plautus, the Roman playwright from who lived a couple of hundred years B.C.

The story has to do with Pseudolus, a slave who's trying to win his freedom by helping his master win the heart of the girl next door. The humor isn't especially subtle -- Trisolini describes the show as "almost burlesque" -- but it's relentlessly witty and clever.

The role of Pseudolus is so comically rich that every actor who has played it on Broadway -- Zero Mostel in the original, Phil Silvers and Nathan Lane in revivals -- has won a Tony Award.

Manatee Players regular Mike Nolan takes that role in this production. Other company stalwarts in the cast include Meg Newsome as Domina and Mark Shoemaker as Senex.

"Even though it's a '60s play, it's still very refreshing," Trisolini said. "It doesn't really remind you of anything unpleasant. That's why it's timeless."

Details: Feb. 21 through March 17, Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre, 102 Old Main St., Bradenton; showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $26; $13 for student. Information: 941-748-5875 or manateeplayers.com.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist can be reached at 941-748-0411. ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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