Funny thing happened on the way to the theater

By Merle Exit

It will be something familiar and something peculiar — you might even say something for everyone —when Theatre by the Bay presents “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” with its new artistic director, Ovi Vargas, running the show.

The Stephen Sondheim, Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart classic Broadway musical is inspired by the farces of ancient Roman playwright Plautus and includes plenty of door slamming, puns and cases of mistaken identity.

Although Vargas wanted to stage a little-known 1930s musical about boxing titled “Seeing Stars,” the theater’s board convinced him not to take such a large risk for his first show.

“The board ultimately decided that it was too early for something original,” Vargas said. “I decided to pick a known title but stage it in a way that was different than what the audiences at Theatre By The Bay have come to expect. This also included changing the dimensions of the stage and bringing in fresh faces.”

Vargas may be a new face in Bay Terrace, but he has a long acting and directing resumé that includes Broadway, off-Broadway and television.

“I studied with some of the greatest acting teachers including Uta Hagen, Bobby Lewis, Stella Adler, Sandy Meisner and the master, Lee Strassberg,” Vargas said. “I am also a graduate of the Boston Conservatory of Music.”

Vargas also studied dance with the Jeoffrey Ballet and the New York Conservatory of Dance.

Eventually he made his way over to H.B. Studios, where he began to study directing with Herbert Bergoff. Finally, in 1995, Vargas made the switch to directing full-time.

“I spent a lot of quality time with the Westside Repertory and the Third Eye Repertory in Manhattan, which afforded me great freedom to experiment and hone my craft,” Vargas said. “That’s where I found my fearless voice as a director. This led to numerous successful off-Broadway productions, regional theater and a ton of summer stock.”

Vargas has directed community theater productions in Queens before. He has worked in Douglaston and Forest Hills, but this will be his first time running the whole shebang.

After Theatre by the Bay Artistic Director and co-founder Larry Bloom decided to step down after 11 years, the group’s board started to look for a replacement in time for its annual fall production.

“A friend of mine knew a member of the company and put in a good word for me,” Vargas said. “They wanted to grow and expand beyond the boundaries of community theater and were happy to hear my vision for the theater as well as what I could bring to the table.”

Some of what Vargas plans to bring includes actors and designers he has worked with in other productions around the city.

Although he knows this first outing will be considered a safe bet, Vargas wants to ensure audience members that he definitely has an eye on the future.

“I theorized that once audiences here saw that we were a bold and innovative new group then they would be willing to trust us, and more specifically me, in bringing in more modern and original musicals as well as non-musicals,” he said.

If you go

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”

When: Nov. 8 – Nov. 22, Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm

Where: Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center, 13-00 209th St., Bayside

Cost: $22/adults, $20/seniors and children

Contact: (718) 428-6363

Website: www.theatrebythebayny.com

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