Students bring Sondheim comedy to Angels Camp

Bret Harte High School students perform “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” Thursday and Friday in Angels Camp.

It’s a fun end of the week as students are set to present the classic Stephen Sondheim musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” Thursday and Friday at the Bret Harte High School Theater in Angels Camp.

Students from Bret Harte High perform the musical that follows the machinations of the Roman slave Pseudolus as he attempts to win his freedom by gaining the love of the beautiful Philia for his master, Hero. But Pseudolus finds himself fending off the interferences from Hero’s henpecked father and dominating mother, Philia’s intended suitor, and a host of courtesans, eunuchs, soldiers and other colorful characters.

The musical features the popular tune “Comedy Tonight.” The show won five Tony Awards during its initial Broadway run in 1962 and was filmed for the big screen and released in 1966.

For Grover Anderson, Bret Harte’s drama teacher and the director, the connection to the vibrant farce goes back to 2001, when the musical was staged during his time as a student at the school.

“This is the first musical that I’ve directed, and given how steep I knew the learning curve would be, I wanted to keep unknowns to a minimum,” Anderson said. “It was the last show that the Bret Harte theater program performed before the building was completed. It was my first high school theater experience, so it holds a special place in my heart, and I’m excited to share it with these students.”

He admits that “Forum” is similar in setting to the ancient Greek drama “Antigone” that students performed in the fall, but the two shows are distinct.

“After the heavy drama of ‘Antigone’ in the fall, I think they were nervous to do another play set in antiquity, but this farce could not be more different,” Anderson said. “They’re still finding jokes in the script that make me laugh, which is a testament to how open they are to this 1960s comedy. It’s quite inspiring to be working with students who approach theater with such enthusiasm.”

Music teacher David Allured leads a student and community orchestra and theater instructor David Duggan and his students designed sound, lights and stage sets. Nichole Markle serves as the stage manager and vocal coach, and junior Molly Johnson is the show’s choreographer.

For Claudia Loomis, who plays the hilarious and desperate Pseudolus, the most important element of the show is the human connection.

“My favorite thing about this production is the closeness of the cast and our director, Grover Anderson, and stage manager, Nichole Markle,” Loomis said. “The community should come see this show because it is a modern twist on a musical made in the 1960s, and the hard work and effort put into it not only by the actors, but also by the directing and technical theater staff is tremendous.”

Loomis is joined by Zack Shepherd, Josh Girard, Tony Solis, Summer Hamari, Emmary Jones, Emily Buss, Rachael Ramsey, Raen Kuykendall, Molly Johnson, Zaira Sanchez, Bailey Hoffman, Brooke Freeman, Kaiya Hall, Kayla Gonsalves, Kelsie Stevenson, Quincy Camper, Jackson Dodds, JJ Benoit, Jocelyn Gomez, Isabel Hernandez and Jesse O’Bird in the show.

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” appears at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the theater at 323 Main St., Angels Camp. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students, available at the door.

Anderson advises parents familiar with the show’s bawdy nature that it has been edited and is suitable for all ages.

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