A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which opens Friday at Woodminster Amphitheater in the Oakland hills, counts two Piedmonters among its cast.
The two are also family members. John Tichenor, who plays the principal role of Hysterium in this bawdy Tony Award winner, happens to be Andrew Moorhead’s uncle. Moorhead plays a Protean, singing and dancing in the ensemble and taking on a variety of roles ranging from slave to soldier to eunuch.
“There are three Proteans and we pop up all over the place,” says Moorhead. “It’s very energetic and a lot of fun.”
Tichenor says he’s surprised that theaters don’t produce A Funny Thing Happened more often.
“It’s a funny show with great parts for everyone,” says Tichenor. “It’s a vaudeville-type farce, basically a laugh a minute. Every line is a joke or a set-up for a joke. It’s like modern-day situational comedy … kind of like a Seinfeld episode.”
A Funny Thing Happened, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, was inspired by the ribald comedies of Roman playwright Plautus (254-184 B.C.). It tells the story of a slave named Pseudolus (Trente Morant) and his farcical attempts to win his freedom by helping his young master woo the girl next door.
“This play is 50 years old this year, and we're thrilled to present it in all its comic glory to our Woodminster audiences,” says publicist Kathy Kahn. “It's got all the elements of a classic farce — mistaken identity, chase scenes and slamming doors, disguises — along with vaudeville-style jokes and musical numbers.
“Every role demands perfect comic timing, and our cast is definitely up to it. As Hysterium, John Tichenor is the quintessential fuss-budget. The Proteans, including Andrew Moorhead, present the perfect picture of comic cluelessness.”
All in the Family
Tichenor and Moorhead, who were both born and raised in Piedmont and are Piedmont High grads, say it’s fun to be able to work in the production together.
“There’s no guarantee that a theatre will hire you both but it’s fortunate when it happens that way,” says 19-year-old Moorhead, a sophomore at Chapman University in Los Angeles, where he studies acting and film.
Both uncle and nephew have performed in Woodminster productions together in the past, including The Wizard of Oz and My Fair Lady. Tichenor reckons he’s been in about 15 Woodminster musicals, including its original production of A Funny Thing Happened in 1980 when he played a Protean — the role that his nephew now takes on.
“The first time I performed at Woodminster was in 1978 when I was 15,” recalls Tichenor. “I felt so lucky to live so close to the theater and to have Broadway veterans Jim and Harriet Schlader running a professional theater right in my back yard.” (The late Jim Schlader and his wife Harriet founded Woodminster in 1967 and the outdoor theater has been the venue for summer musicals ever since.)
Tichenor, who has worked in theaters in New York and New England and as a screenwriter and story editor in Hollywood, says being back at Woodminster for this season is “like coming home.”
For Moorhead, Woodminster also has very special ties. His parents Amy and Robert Moorhead met and began dating while both were performing in the theater’s production of On the Town.
“The theater is important to me just for that reason,” says Moorhead.
His parents continue to be involved in theater. His father teaches drama at a local high school while his mother is a dance instructor at Piedmont High School and directs the annual musical performance. She was also a professional dancer in San Francisco’s production of Phantom of the Opera.
“I was fortunate to grow up in a family where theater and performing are so important,” says Moorhead. “Seeing my parents perform was a big influence on me.”
Oh, and let’s not forget Moorhead’s younger brother and sister, 12-year-old Zach and 9-year-old Emma, who also graced the stage of Woodminster in 2010 in The Music Man.
“I think we all have the bug or the gene,” says Tichenor. “Maybe it came from my grandmother. She was a Big Band singer who traveled the country and knew people like Bing Crosby.”
So what does this family of actors do when they all get together? Read Shakespeare?
“We’re big sports fans,” says Moorhead. “We’re not the type of family that sits around and sings show tunes!”
Concludes Harriet Schlader: “If you want to laugh your head off, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is your show!”
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum will be performed at 8 p.m. on Aug. 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18 and 19. Tickets are $27-$56, with discounts for children and seniors, and half-price tickets for groups of 25. Preview Night on Thursday, Aug. 9 at 8 p.m. is $12 at the door. Tickets may be purchased at www.woodminster.com, through the theater box office at (510) 531-9597, in person in advance or at the door.
Woodminster continues its Kids Come Free program, which provides free tickets to children and teens 16 or younger on the night of performance. The theater is located in Joaquin Miller Park, 3300 Joaquin Miller Rd., Oakland.
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