Sacramento Theater Company opens “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” this weekend, but the classic musical farce set in ancient Rome hasn’t always been just a bunch of laughs. It’s well known that creating a Broadway musical is akin to making sausage: Whether it’s sweet or spicy, you don’t necessarily want to know what went into it. “Funny Thing” was one of the most complicated in the making and remains one of the more enjoyable in the consuming when it’s done well. The creators of the complex 1962 farce include Stephen Sondheim (songs), Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart (book), George Abbot (director) and Harold Prince (producor).
The wild card was Jerome Robbins, who was originally hired to direct but dropped out and then was brought back during out-of-town previews to figure out why it wasn’t quite working. Robbins had awkward relationships with several principals, including Gelbart, who was incensed about Robbins’ leaving the first time. It was also tense with lead actors Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford, both of whom had been blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee while Robbins had named names, including Gilford’s wife.
Still, Robbins came on, tightening and re-staging numbers and had Sondheim write a few new songs, including a significant new opening number, “Comedy Tonight,” which let the audience know from the start it was all right to laugh. Mostel won a Tony Award for his performance as Pseudolus.
Playing Pseudolus here will be Michael RJ Campbell, and it seems like a fine match of character and actor. Also in the cast is Jacob L. Smith playing the war hero Miles Gloriosus. Smith has appeared in Sacramento in the national tours of “Rock of Ages” and “Spamalot.” The veteran actor Joe Vincent plays Senex, the beaten-down husband of Domina. Vincent was an actor in Sacramento nearly 50 years ago before working for years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and at professional theaters around the country. STC executive producing director Michael Laun directs the production.
6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 12:30 p.m. Thursdays through May 18. At the Sacramento Theatre Company, Main Stage, 1419 H St., Sacramento. Tickets: $15-38. For information go to www.sactheatre.org . or call (916)443-6722.
City Theatre at Sacramento City College is also opening a modern take on classical farce with a new production of “Scapino!” by Frank Dunlop and Jim Dale. The character of Scapino has much in common with Psedulous as he is also a wily servant trickster, often working against his employer’s best interests. “Scapino!” is based on Moliere’s “Les Fourberies de Scapin,” (“Scapin’s Deceits”).
Director Peter Mohrmann has given it a ’70s disco upgrade, so we might hope to see the cast doing the Hustle at some point. With Anthony Person as Scapino and Scarlett Becky Vang as Hyacinthe. Opening 8 p.m. Friday. Ccontinues 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through May 18. At the Art Court Theatre in the Performing Arts Center at Sacramento City College, 3835 Freeport Blvd. Tickets: $15-$10. Information at www. citytheatre.net. 916-558-2228
A salute and a benefit
Still doing it after all these years is the one and only Ed Claudio. His Actor’s Workshop of Sacramento will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a fundraiser variety show, “Comedy Without Manners.” It promises to be an evening of “rude comic plays and sketches” to support the Actor’s Workshop scholarship program.
Elisabeth Nunziato will the host and master of ceremonies as the production features numerous B Street actors and other well-known Sacramento performers. 7 p.m. Monday. Tickets are $30. At B Street Theatre , 2711 B St., Sacramento. Information: (916) 501-6104.
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120.