Director Simon Phillips and producer John Frost don togas to make their announcement.

Director Simon Phillips and producer John Frost don togas to make their announcement. Photo: Paul Rovere

INEVITABLY director Simon Phillips and producer John Frost turned up in togas to announce their forthcoming production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. ''I have never been humiliated in this way,'' said Phillips, a man more comfortable in classic Melbourne black. ''I have never submitted to such ignoble, ribald stupidity in my life.''

Maybe not, but it was perfectly in keeping with the tone of the show, a bacchanalian Broadway farce with songs by Stephen Sondheim, who is rumoured to be coming to Melbourne for the opening of the show in October.

As The Age revealed last month, Geoffrey Rush will star as the slave Pseudolus in the revival of the 1962 show. He was in Italy yesterday, filming The Best Offer for Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore, and no other cast details were announced, which left Phillips and Frost to fill the void with a comedy duet of their own in which they revealed how Rush was wooed.

They were looking for a project to work on, with a short title such as Wicked or Annie, said Frost, who was the Australian producer of both. ''And you,'' he said, turning to Phillips, ''said, 'Let's do How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying'.''

''No, that's the title of your autobiography,'' said Phillips.

''I hope so,'' said Frost, whose most recent production, An Officer and a Gentleman, will close next month after a very disappointing run in Sydney.

Phillips had just finished directing Rush in the MTC's production of The Importance of Being Earnest, and told Frost he felt he would be perfect for A Funny Thing.

''I thought he was born to play that role,'' Phillips said. ''I thought, 'Why don't I just send Geoffrey an email saying I'm here with Frosty and this is what I think we should do'.''

Luckily, Rush agreed.

The show will open for a planned 12-week Melbourne-only run in October at Her Majesty's, the same theatre that hosted its Australian debut 39 years ago.