First semester at college is difficult for many freshmen. But McLane Heckman had help with the transition: he was cast in the UMW fall production of the musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
“Forum,” a Stephen Sondheim musical with the tagline “Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight!” revolves around the mishaps of the Roman slave Pseudolus, who attempts to free himself by helping his young master Hero win the girl of his dreams. Featuring a cast of 18, a large number for a Klein Theatre production, the show offered an opportunity for students to become involved in college life in a fun, high-energy environment.
“Having a show to participate in really helped me acclimate to the changes in life at college,” said Heckman, who played the Roman general Miles Gloriosus.
Heckman wasn’t the only “Forum” cast member new to the Theatre Department—a third of the cast was composed of freshmen.
For sophomore Siobhan Dannaher, who played the courtesan Tintinabula, the high percentage of freshman made for an enjoyable cast.
“It’s fun to have a cast that is so representative of all the classes,” she said. “All of us have different levels of experience and that makes for a really good mix of people.”
For director and Theatre Department Chair Greg Stull, the challenge of the production was in the size of the cast.
“The most complex part of having a large cast is fitting everyone on to the stage,” he said. “Especially with the level of movement going on onstage, it’s necessary to make sure everyone knows where they’re going and can get there safely.”
He added that the amount of new actors did not hinder the production of the play.
“There is a pretty big learning curve for new students,” Stull said. “The level of expectation is just as high for freshman as for seniors—everyone is expected to contribute equally. Inexperienced actors catch up quickly.”
Junior Sam Packard, who worked as choreographer and assistant stage manager, used the show to experience a different side of theatre.
“It’s the first time I’ve worked on the production side of a play,” she said. “Normally I’m an actor, so it’s interesting to see how intricate the other side is. Being the choreographer also meant I had to do two jobs at once.”
The musical required a completely different approach from the one taken to the fall’s first production, “Proof,” a serious drama with a minimal cast.
“A musical is so much more technically involved than a straight play,” Dannaher said. “This show is big and over-the-top—it’s not realistic at all. It’s important to have a strong presence on stage in order to make it work.”
Stull promises a strong delivery from all the actors in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
“People should come wanting to have a good time, be engaged with the actors and enjoy the show,” he said.