August 07, 2013

A Funny Thing Happening In Sag Harbor

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It is mind boggling to consider a legendary Broadway play, replete with music, dance, a fantastic design team and a star-studded cast of professional actors (18!) will be staged live in Sag Harbor. Oh yeah, did we mention a Tony-nominated director?

Only Bay Street Theatre could pull it off, and the tiny theatre that could, has done it many, many times. This summer's featured production, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To the Forum, may well prove to be one of the best ever staged here.

The pedigree is impeccable. Written by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart with a timeless score courtesy of Stephen Sondheim, Forum has been an audience favorite since its first performance in 1962 – who will ever forget Zero Mostel – through its revival in 1996 (with Nathan Lane) and ever since.

Peter Scolari ("Bosom Buddies," Honey I Shrunk The Kids) gets the coveted role of Prologus/Pseudolus in this reincarnation, and he's more than up to the task. John Schuck ("McMillan & Wife") and Jackie Hoffman of Second City fame co-star.

The show is in the capable hands of director Marcia Milgrom Dodge, who directed and choreographed the revival of Ragtime on Broadway in 2009 – it earned seven Tony nominations, including Best Director. Dodge has traveled extensively, but Sag Harbor holds a special place in her heart, she said.

"I go all over the country. A community is stronger if you have a cultural center," she said of Bay Street. "This is a great escape, and it is fun being in a waterside community." The synergies are amazing: E.L. Doctorow, who wrote the novel Ragtime, is a long time resident of Sag Harbor and he and his wife Helen will be attending the play, she added.

Then there is Tony Walton, one of the co-founders of Bay Street. He did the set design for the original production of Forum.

For Scolari, it is yet another opportunity to exercise his comedic chops. He was an unknown when he was cast alongside Tom Hanks for the TV show – "Bosom Buddies" – and spent much of his time in front of the camera dressed as a woman.

"We were nice guys," he recalled. "We resented being in drag, but there is a long history in theater of men in drag. When I look back we did some of our best work." Scolari then worked with the master himself on the "Bob Newhart Show" and it proved to be a virtual primer in television comedy. "You never knew who would show up. One day it was Don Knotts, the next day, Steve Allen."

Schuck has been working steadily since his stint on "McMillan," which ran from 1971-77. His credits include "Roots," two Star Trek movies, and Annie Get Your Gun on Broadway.

"This is a part I've always wanted to play," Schuck said about his role as Senex in Forum. "And, I get to sing the best song – 'Everybody Ought To Have A Maid.' He's a dirty old man!"

The cast's secret weapon may well be Hoffman, a wickedly funny New Yorker who regularly performs on stage and in comedy clubs.

"She's clearly written by a man," she says of her character, Domina. "She's a shrew, but she's a loveable shrew." Hoffman worked with the likes of Steve Colbert and Chris Farley at Second City, so she knows a thing or two about timing.

The play itself is classic Gelbart – with an assist from the great farces of the Roman playwright Plautus. The plot, such as it is, centers around a young slave (Pseudolus) who tries to win his freedom by hooking his master up with the beauty next door. Along the way there are enough twists and turns and puns to keep the audience mesmerized – and in hysterics.

"People are going to be blown away by this," Dodge predicted, "They will get a bang for their buck." The show runs through September 1. Tickets should be reserved at once: call 631-725-9500 for tickets. Visit baystreet.org for show times and additional information.

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