As iconic a figure as Stephen Sondheim is, he does have a few critics. Ben Amey and Matt Coviello, however, are not among them.
"Sondheim is always a challenge," said Amey, who plays Hero in the Schenectady Light Opera Company production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," opening Friday and running through March 22. "He doesn't make anything easy vocally, so it is a fun challenge. But especially with everything going on in the world, it's nice to have a show that you can just sit back and laugh with. It's just a simple farce, but it's effective in the best way."
Coviello is also a big fan, although he agrees singing Sondheim's music is a real test for musical performers.
"Sondheim writes great music with a lot of lyrics to advance the plot," said Coviello. "He uses recurring themes through his shows so melodies come back throughout. As for performing his music, it is a test of stamina and mental ability to remember the sequence of his lyrics in the repeating melodies. But it's a rewarding challenge."
While Coviello is a veteran of the SLOC stage, Amey will be making his debut in Sondheim's 1962 Broadway smash that garnered eight Tony Award nominations and won six, including Best Musical. Amey grew up in Syracuse and Rochester and currently lives in Scotia.
"I've been acting since I was in the fifth grade, but this is my first show in seven years," said Amey, who did a lot of work with the Geneseo Community Players when he was living in western New York. "I had been working in television news and the schedules didn't really allow me the time to act. So I'm very excited to be able to get back on stage again."
He is finding his first experience with the Schenectady Light Opera Company to be an enjoyable one.
"There are a lot of newcomers to SLOC in this production, and all of us have been welcomed with open arms," said Amey. "They definitely took a chance on a guy who hadn't been on stage in a while and didn't have anything local to his name, and I'm forever grateful for that. This cast is like family, and I can't wait to show everyone what we've created together."
Coviello, who has performed on the SLOC stage in "Urinetown," "Sister Act," "How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying," and "Curtains," is a native of Pittsfield, Massachusetts and now lives in Rensselaer.
"This show is one of the first musicals I have been involved, previously playing the part of Miles Glorious," said Coviello, who is cast as the lead character, Pseudolus in this production. "The role of Pseudolus is a character I've wanted to play since I started acting; a role of tremendous variety and nuance, that allows for a range of emotions and zany situations as well as hysterical comedy with fellow actors on stage."
Coviello, who has also performed and directed with the Schenectady Civic Players, Albany Civic Theater and The Not-So-Common Players of Clifton Park, said he loves being the center of attention.
"I have always enjoyed being in front of people," he said. "Being a part of the theater community is a great way to engage with other creative people, as well as come together to tell a story and share that with an audience. I have been a part of productions both on stage and off, and I find different rewards for each. There really are so many great people involved with all of these companies, and there are lots of opportunities to see exciting theater in the area."
Gary Hoffman is directing the SLOC production, while other cast members include Edda Roemelt, Kevin O'Toole, Steven Maggio, Don Wheeler, Terry Peterson, Joan Meyer and Phil Bruns. The story, inspired by the farces of ancient Rome, revolves around a slave, Pseudolus, who attempts to gain his freedom by helping his master woo the girl next door.
In the 1962 Broadway production, Zero Mostel landed the role of Pseudolus, and also played him in the 1966 film. While Sondheim wrote both the lyrics and musical, Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart wrote the book.
"Like the show says," said Amey, "we will employ every device we know in our desire to divert you. So I absolutely adore the show for that."
'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum'
WHERE: Schenectady Light Opera Company, 427 Franklin St., Schenectady
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through March 22; performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
HOW MUCH: $28-$23
MORE INFO: (518) 730-7370 or visit www.sloctheater.org