Janesville couple team up behind the scenes for "Forum"

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Ashley McCallum
Wednesday, September 6, 2017

JANESVILLE—It's kind of a “funny thing” how David and Cathleen Bitter fell in love.

The couple's relationship started when David, director of Theatre Unlimited's upcoming production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” and Cathleen, the costume maker for the production, began working together on the stage at Craig High School in the early 1970s.

The show they were in? The same show they're preparing to go live with later this month.

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was David's first production as a sophomore in high school, he said. He acted in the show, as he usually does.

But for the Theatre Unlimited performance, he decided to take a chance at directing. He said he has performed with the theater group every year since 2003.

David's “day job,” so to speak, is a pharmacist at Shopko in Beloit. Cathleen is a registered nurse for Dean Medical Group and crafts costumes for the theater group in her spare time, David said.

The couple performed a few scenes together in high school, David said. Now they look back at that time fondly as they work on the Theatre Unlimited production.

“It was funny because, when it first came up to do it, a lot of that stuff just started coming back to us ... some of the things we did back in high school,” he said. “We've been together ever since. It's a little bit of nostalgia and kind of a lot of fun thinking about some of the stuff we did.”

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is based on the book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, and it is inspired by the farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus. Stephen Sondheim created the music and lyrics for the play.

The story centers on a slave named Pseudolus, who tries to gain his freedom by helping his master woo the girl next door.
Along with satirical comments on social class, the play includes puns and cases of mistaken identity to forward its plot line.

The musical's original 1962 Broadway run won several Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Author (Musical).

Theatre Unlimited has been performing classical musical theatre in Janesville since 1992. “A Funny Thing” has been on the group's radar for some time, David said, and now seemed to finally be the right time to do it.

David describes the play as an “old-school kind of comedy.” And despite it being equally fun to watch and perform, he said it's not always easy finding people to fill out the cast.

The show calls for 18 characters, but only 12 people auditioned initially, David said. After some recruiting and cast changes since production began in June, the show finally has a full cast, he said.

Among the original 12 who auditioned were members new to Theatre Unlimited, and David said he is excited to welcome them to the Janesville Performing Arts Center's stage.

There are no qualifications to audition for the group, David said. He thinks lack of turnout for auditions is simply a result of people having busy schedules.

Other theater groups in the area experience the same frustrations, he said.

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is a good show for people who might not usually enjoy musicals, David said.
“I know musical theater isn't for everybody, but if you're going to come to one, this is really a great one to come see,” he said.

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