John Command relishes chance to helm 'Forum' at the Jungle

​It's been smooth sailing for John Command's first time around directing a show at the Jungle Theater.

The longtime theater and television veteran -- he performed in early Chanhassen Dinner Theatres productions and did choreography for everything from the "Thriller" video to the Golden Girls -- has taken on the challenge of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and has had barely a hitch.

"I never had an audition, I just called the people I adore," Command says. "I've been blessed with this spectacular cast."

[jump] That cast includes Christopher Teipner, Eric Heimsoth, Amanda Schnabel, Jon Whittier, Bradley Greenwald, and husband and wife Richard Ooms and Claudia Wilkins playing husband and wife Senex and Domina.

Written by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart with music by Stephen Sondheim, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum uses the farces of Roman playwright Plautus as a foundation, mixing songs (like the famous opener, "Comedy Tonight") with the action along the way.

In recent years, Command has spent his time at the Bloomington Civic Theatre, directing 47 shows and serving as artistic director before, as he tactfully puts it, the company "decided to go in a different direction."

The seeds of Forum were sown a year ago, when Jungle founder and Artistic Director Bain Boehlke asked Command if he would like to direct at his theater. Command jumped at the chance and began the work. The production is a change of pace for the Jungle, which hasn't attempted a musical of this scale before.

"It's a bit smaller space than I'm used to directing in," Command says. "We have a cast of 20, but thought, 'Well, Rome was crowded.'"

Beyond that, the process has been the same as any of the other dozens of musicals Command has directed through his career. It's been aided by his veteran cast, most of whom he has worked with in the past. Their experience helped the show to hit rehearsals with a running start. 

"I don't have to tell people how to act. In this production, the last chorus girl on the right was a star for me in a past production. This is a full company of great people and it came together right away," he says.

That in turn allowed Command and the company to search for special moments within the comedy. "There are moments of gentle honesty in the show, they are rare, but we have been finding them," he says.

A Funny Thing on the Way to the Forum opens Friday and runs through July 24.