“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” a rollicking romantic musical comedy with slap-stick jokes reminiscent of vaudeville, opens tonight at the Jewish Community Center.
“It’s all about romance and making fun of how foolish we can look when we fall in love,” said Chris McCoy, who directs the show. “It’s the type of over-the-top comedy we rarely get to experience in theater these days. It has beautiful songs and entertaining dance numbers, but it’s driven by the comedy and that anything-for-a-laugh spirit.”
Set in ancient Rome, the romance begins with Hero, played by Jake Leet falling in love with Philia, a beautiful courtesan played by Christina Coffey. Philia has been sold to a captain in the Roman army.
It’s a near miracle that Leet, 22, is able to play Hero — or any other role. In December 2013, while portraying the Donkey in “Shrek” at Theatre Lawrence, he suffered a heart attack. When he collapsed onstage, audience assumed it was part of the play.
When it became apparent he’d collapsed, a call for a doctor went out. Fortunately Dr. Loree Cordova was in the audience and rushed to the stage. Leet wasn’t breathing and had no pulse. Cordova began chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. She continued until EMTs arrived with automated external defibrillators and took him to the hospital.
At Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Lee was put on life support and into a medically induced coma. It was discovered the attack was caused by an undiagnosed heart defect called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which often is fatal. Later the defect was corrected by a procedure at Olathe Medical Center.
“I was out of the hospital in a week or so and it wasn’t long until I was back onstage,” said Leet, who was in “The Secret Garden” at The Theatre in the Park last summer. “I know I’m very, very lucky to be alive. I could have had a heart attack any place. Fortunately it was in a theater and someone knew CPR.”
“I love my role of Hero and I really identify with our director, Chris,” Leet said. “He’s a teacher first and director second. We have a good time at rehearsals. Christina and I get along great. In fact, the entire cast is great.”
“Life is good!” said Leet, who lives in Lawrence.
Knowing Hero is in love with Philia, Pseudolus, one of Hero’s slaves, promises to help him win Philia in exchange for his freedom. When Pseudolus learns Philia has been sold to the captain he resorts to trickery.
“Pseudolus is quite a character. He comes up with all kinds of schemes to get Philia for Hero and, more important, his freedom,” said Reed Uthe, a drama teacher at Lakewood Middle School in Overland Park. “I enjoy playing him. He’s manipulative, a real wheeler-dealer who’ll do anything. But he comes through in the long run.”
Uthe portrayed President Franklin D. Roosevelt in “Annie Warbucks” last summer at Theatre in the Park. “FDR for sure was a different character than Pseudolus,” he said.
Christina Coffey said Philia is a dream role for her.
“I like her because she’s kind of spacy, easy to play,” Coffey said. “She loves Hero but she gets chased all over the stage trying to stay away from the captain. She has too many people telling her what she should do.”
Coffey lives in Kansas City. This is her first show at JCC.
Marcus Lycus, portrayed by John Edmonds of Overland Park, is a purveyor of courtesans, including Philia. He sold her to the captain. Lycus lives in the same suburb as Senex, a henpecked, sardonic Roman senator and father of Hero. Senex is played Dennis Maddux of Overland Park.
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” opens at 7:30 p.m. today and runs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, Feb. 25 and Feb. 27,.with 2 p.m. matinees Sunday, Feb. 14, Feb. 21 and 28 in White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center, 5801 W. 115th St., Overland Park. For more information call 913-327-8054