(March 12, 2008)

Funny Things, These Forums

Peter D. Kramer/The Journal News

Edgemont and Ardsley high schools are just three miles apart, but they might as well be side-by-side when it comes to high-school musicals.

Beginning Thursday, both schools will present “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” – two schools, two auditoriums, two sets, two casts, two orchestras.

Same show.

There are dozens of musicals available to high-school directors. The roster of shows across the Lower Hudson Valley this season includes “Cats,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Hello, Dolly!” and “Me & My Girl,” to name just a few.

But two “Forums” on the same weekend at schools three miles apart? How to explain that?

Last year, Edgemont and Ardsley didn’t perform in the same week. Their musicals were one week apart.

Ardsley performed “Kiss Me, Kate” then, the next Friday, it was Edgemont’s turn.

To perform “Kiss Me, Kate.”

Barrie Gelles, who directs Ardsley’s “Forum,” had never met Edgemont’s producer Richard Cantatore until last week, when the coincidental shows brought them together at Ardsley.

She offered her opinion as to how two schools could choose the same shows two years running:

“We have the same brain!” she shouted to Cantatore, who turned to Gelles with an accusatory look.

“At Edgemont, it’s my decision, so I don’t know where you’re getting this from. Where are you getting this from? Where do you hang?” he wants to know, in mock indignation.

“I hang in Brooklyn,” says Gelles. “I might have spies.”

“My daughter lives in Brooklyn: Prospect Park,” Cantatore says, incredulous.

“Seriously?” Gelles asks, then after a beat, “She might be one of my spies.”

Both shows open Thursday. Ardsley’s runs through Saturday; Edgemont has a Sunday matinee, which Gelles plans to attend.

The choice of musicals depends, directors and producers say, on the talent available.

If she keeps with her tradition, Gelles will start talking about next year’s show this week, just as she’s putting the finishing touches on “Forum.”

“During tech week, we start talking about next year’s show. We all say ‘What’s next, this is so sad that this show is almost over?’ ”

”(Musical director) Spencer (Smith) and I tend to look at the next shows, when it’s ending,” she says. “We already start to go into withdrawal, because our jobs are done at the last dress rehearsal. We want to see what’s next.”

It’s a great way to continue the conversation from one year to the next, Gelles says.

“The kids right away are asking and they’re anticipating that last performance when they have to say goodbye and not have any more rehearsals,” she says. If we start discussing the next show right away, it becomes cyclical. They don’t have to give it up. It’ll be there next year.”

Ardsley’s show is announced officially in September.

“We tease them at the announcement,” Gelles says. “We always tell them we’re going to do ‘High Button Shoes.’ We try that one every year, they never believe us. But I keep threatening it.”

If “Forum” was a popular choice in the three-mile radius between Ardsley and Scarsdale, there’s a reason, Gelles says: The script by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart and Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics are laugh-out-loud funny.

It’s about two Roman houses, lovers, fathers and slaves. The lead character and narrator is Pseudolus, a role created by Zero Mostel and played by Nathan Lane in the 1996 Broadway revival.

Seth Garben plays Pseudolus at Edgemont. He says he was “floored” when he learned that the two schools were doing “Forum” on the same weekend.

He and Gabe Alvarez – Ardsley’s Pseudolus – were in another Sondheim show, “West Side Story,” at Broadway Training Center in Hastings a few years back. (Garben was Action; Alvarez was Diesel.)

“We had a lot of great moments together,” Garben says. “I hadn’t heard that he was playing Pseudolus, but as soon as I heard it, I said ‘This is gonna be a tough match.’ ”

Alvarez, a sophomore, says Pseudolus plays to the audience a lot, which adds to the comedy. He likes playing a character who can come up with a lie at the drop of a hat.

Edgemont sophomore Chase Klein plays the slave Hysterium, a character who wants everything to be perfect but who is powerless to fix things as they fall apart. He says he was excited to learn the two schools were sharing a show and a weekend.

“I like to see a little competitiveness,” he says.

Ardsley’s Hysterium, junior Zach Green, says he thinks “it’s cool that we’re doing it at the same time. So far, this is my favorite show I’ve worked on. It’s hilarious. It’s my sense of humor, so I can connect with it,” he says.

Edgemont’s cast numbers 37; Ardsley’s is 26.

Cantatore says Edgemont’s set is “more Romanesque” than Ardsley’s “with a certain swank, a certain suave that Zero Mostel would have approved of.”

The producer took comfort in saying that the kids in Ardsley shared the same devotion and commitment to theater that he sees in his students.

Before Cantatore heads off to his rehearsal, he leans into Gelles and asks a simple question.

“What are you doing next year?”