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Peter Scolari Goes From Lucky to Funny in Bay Street Theatre's Forum

The stage and screen vet brings something for everyone to the acclaimed comedy in Sag Harbor.

Peter Scolari on opening night of Lucky Guy
(© David Gordon)
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a comedy that has something for everyone, but especially for Peter Scolari, an actor with incredible versatility and comedic chops. The multifaceted star of Bosom Buddies and Newhart jumps from last season's Broadway hit Lucky Guy to Bay Street Theatre's Forum on August 6 in the role of Pseudolus, a part that has garnered every actor to play him on Broadway a Tony Award (see Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, and Nathan Lane). Scolari, who also reprises his role as Tad Horvath on HBO's Girls when it returns for its third season, spoke with TheaterMania about starring in the Sondheim musical.

TheaterMania: Is it difficult to transition from Lucky Guy, which is a dramatic piece, to a humorous musical?

Peter Scolari: It has been a little challenging mentally because you have to take a comedy like this very seriously in the rehearsal stage, even if that means making a fool of yourself…which I need to remember how to do! In a drama you don't make a fool of yourself.

TM: How do you plan to take such an acclaimed role and make it your own?

Peter Scolari in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
(© Jerry Lamonica)
PS: We're looking at Pseudolus as a great vaudevillian [who] I think [writers] Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove fully intended him to be. I worked with Larry when he was still with us on Sly Fox in 2004, so I got to know him and know his lines a little bit. Pseudolus has a great amount of joy and humanity. I want to drive this guy's humanity, go deep in a way that's very personal to me. One song in the show is called "Free," and it's talking about his freedom as a man, not just being free from slavery, but being free from the life he's led up to this time. He's a manipulator, he's a con man, he's a puppet master, he's glib, and he's sarcastic. In a conversation I had this morning with my fearless director [Marcia Milgrom Dodge], we decided that he's got a heart as big as the whole outdoors. That's how I'm staking my claim to the role.

TM: It's a little-known fact that you are an accomplished performer when it comes to circus tricks, such as juggling. Will any of your circus-performance skills come into play in Forum?

PS: It's very possible. It's a secret. By telling you it's a secret, I'm also telling you that they come into play. (laughs)

TM: There are many circus acts featured in Pippin. Any chance of you auditioning for that show?

PS: I would audition to take over for Terrence Mann. I have too much respect for the director [Diane Paulus] and the choreographer, Chet Walker, who's actually a friend of mine. I would do whatever they asked. There's no doubt in my mind.

TM: Speaking of the TV show Girls, on which you have appeared, what is going to happen with Mr. Horvath in the third season?

PS: I'm only in a few episodes this year. My mother sent me lithograph years ago at the height of my television success. It said, "When your cup runneth over, watcheth out." I never got over it. There's something so cosmic to be inferred in that. Not necessarily anything bad, and not necessarily anything good. Of size and volume and scope, what you see when season three begins is a construct of things going very well; Hannah is medicated, her OCD has calmed down, her relationship with the brilliant Adam Driver is going so well…I'm a little bit sick in one of the episodes, and I dance the jitterbug with my wife in another. We are with Hannah at her twenty-fifth birthday party. I'm very much a supporting player this season.

TM: If you could go back in time, what is one thing you would change about your career?

PS: It's almost a pointless exercise; I probably wouldn't have taken a pass towards movies in the early nineties that I did not choose. I was offered some film roles and I did not do them. It would have been interesting, but I have no regrets. I am where I am, I accept and embrace the mistakes because they're character-building and they build perspective and talent.

TM: People must say wacky things to you about Bosom Buddies. What is the funniest thing anyone has ever said to you about the show and/or Tom Hanks?

PS: An actor here in the company referred to me as a "known ladies' man." I'm not sure whether he was teasing me or not, but it's really the quickest answer that comes to mind in referring to that era. He was referring to how different what I'm doing here in Forum is, perhaps.

Peter Scolari and company in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
(© Jerry Lamonica)