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Comedy Tonight: Fort Wayne Civic Theatre Brings the Bawdy Forum in Return to Arts United Center

Last year, as COVID numbers continued to climb, it was Fort Wayne Civic Theatre that found a way to stage its summer production in spite of protocols. Moving from their usual home at the Arts United Center to the outdoor Foellinger Theatre, which itself had canceled its summer programming, allowed the Civic to stage their long-planned production of 1776. Scheduled to feature an all-female cast in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, the move outdoors provided a space more than up to the challenge of distancing requirements. The production moved forward successfully, even allowing for a panel discussion addressing the issues raised in the show.

At the helm for that production was director Leslie Beauchamp who returns again this year to oversee the Civic’s summer production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The show itself has a backstory almost as funny as the show itself.

“The show came during a time that Broadway musicals were shows like South Pacific and My Fair Lady,” Beauchamp said. “They were all very high brow, and it seemed like a great time to have a bawdy, old time vaudeville type of show. Most of that humor had moved to TV with shows like The Carol Burnett Show and all of the variety shows of that time. Broadway was missing that kind of Benny Hill humor with the burlesque and vaudeville storytelling and costuming.”

Written by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, the latter best known for his work on the TV series MASH, the show features the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, who perfectly captured the raucous spirit of the story.

“Sondheim is a huge student of Oscar Hammerstein,” Beauchamp said. “But Forum is the antithesis of what a musical really is. Usually the songs are what move the story along and provide a lot of the narrative. But in Forum the music provides ‘breathers’ from the story because they really don’t move the story along. They really provide a break from the farce which is why most of the music is in the first act.”

The cast of 18 has enjoyed getting back to the theatre, and since most knew each other through the closeness of the local theatre community, the sense of fun comes as much from returning to their love of theatre as it does from the production itself.

Leslie Beauchamp

“It is such a funny story,” Beauchamp said. “Even when we were just reading it, it was funny. It’s just so wonderful for us to be able to do what we love again, and when people come to see it, being able to gather together again for live theatre, it’s going to be so special. And in this show the fourth wall is broken so much so the actors really get to engage with the audience.

Beauchamp, who is also serving as choreographer for Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre’s production of Les Miserables, hopes audiences are hungry for the return of live theatre and will attend both shows in the weekends ahead.

“They’re both fabulous productions,” Beauchamp said. “I really think each will provide something we’ve been missing. The story of Forum is zany, and you don’t have to think too hard to be entertained.”

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum runs July 24-25, July 30-August 1, and August 6-8. To order tickets call 260-424-5220.

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