Entertainment » Theatre

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

by Dale Reynolds
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Nov 23, 2017
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

This brilliantly-funny production of the 1962 classic farce musical, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," based on the 2nd Century BCE Roman playwright, Plautus, is such a joy to sit through, laugh with, and marvel at how adroitly the cast makes it work, that you'll want to see it again... and again. Director Joseph Leo Bwarie, an alumnus of The Troubadours, has the same sense of the ridiculous and great lowbrow humor as the original show, which has won many awards over the years.

It is also composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim's first solo show (after writing the lyrics for "Gypsy" and "West Side Story"). While not at all to be paired with his later, stunning work, it fits into the vaudevillian and burlesque style of Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart's wondrously silly book that exposes us to a heavy-set slave named Pseudolus (Paul C. Vogt). Pseudolus is promised his freedom from the naïve son, Hero (Michael Thomas Grant), of Senex (a droll Kevin Symons) and the well-named Domina (Candi Milo), if Pseudolus can arrange a marriage with the virgin courtesan (a seemingly contradiction in terms), Philia (Nicole Kaplan), who resides in the House of Lycus (a notorious brothel next door to the Senex').

What the plot turns out so gloriously is bawdy but never vulgar, with the punning and over-the-top hysteria that can easily satisfy our baser tastes. And by casting actors who for the most part are capable of OTT-within-reason acting, such as Ethan Cohn as Hysterium, the "I live to grovel" slave to Domina; the aforementioned Symons and Milo; hunky Clayton Snyder as hunky (and more in love with himself than you could ever be) Roman general, Miles Gloriosus; D.K. Dagenfield as Marcus Lycus and the ancient Erronius, still looking for his lost children, taken by pirates (and a major plot point not to be spoiled by the likes of Moi), as well as the lead, Vogt.

Strengthening the ensemble are three fantastic dancers: Shamicka Benn, tall and voluptuous, who at one point does her best Jennifer Holliday impression, Liz Bustle and Vanessa Nichole -- all three sexy and nimble in Becca Sweitzer's amusingly athletic choreography.

Ad-libs in this kind of show are de rigueur, and when one of the actors stumbled over a part of the scenery, knocking off a piece, Vogt commented (I believe) that house-rats were on the loose, and at intermission one of the staff put a "careful" yellow stretch-tape over it, but in Spanish. There were other carefully declared ad-libs throughout the show, never failing to draw sustained laughter and applause from the audience.

The set of Fred Kinney, consisting of the three houses of Erronius, Senex, and Lycus, are a perfect backdrop for the frenetic action in front, aided by François-Pierre Couture's lighting design. Jessica Champagne-Hansen's wild costuming, and musical director Brent Crayon's harmonious handling of the upstage and unseen four-member band (Crayon, Nick Stone, Dana Decker, Gene Burkert), all added perfect accompaniment to the evening.

If there is one small flaw, it's the miking of all the actors, way too loud for this under-300-seat house. All of them are in strong voice and projection would not have been a problem, unless the band was too loud. A minor caveat, but noticeable.

Still, this is one of the most audience-friendly shows ever written, and in the hands of expert farceurs and knowing directors, frenetic hilarity ensues. If this style of theater is your cuppa-tea, then, by all means, rush down to get your tickets!

"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" plays through December 31 at the newly-renamed Garry Marshall Theatre, 4252 W. Riverside Dr, Burbank, 91505. For tickets and information, call 818-955-8101 or visit www.garrymarshalltheatre.org

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