Published on July 19th, 2012 | by Phoebe Wantz0
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – Review
First of all, and this I mean with all sincerity, the title of this show is an understatement. “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To the Forum” is a misnomer.
It is more accurate to say that everything is funny in this uproarious farce, which opened Friday to perform for a sizeable audience at Muncie Civic Theatre Mainstage.
The two slaves, Pseudolus (Chris Bateson) and Hysterium (Benjamin Lancaster), are especially gifted and talented and funny, but the spear-wielding soldiers marching three-by-three are even funny, a clueless neighbor (Tom Cherry) circling the city is funny, and an empty-headed beauty (Hannah Stayhorn) who looks and sings like an angel and also has trouble counting to three is funny.
There’s even a funny funeral.
Civic’s meticulously timed, non-stop romp, directed by Todd Terrell, celebrates the end of Muncie Civic’s 80th Season and what a way to end it! Talk about going out on a high! Its raucous, vaudevillian style, however, is more akin to traveling shows that probably graced the Civic’s stage a century ago.
Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics are so catchy that I guarantee the opening/closing song, “Comedy Tonight,” will be buzzing around in your head and you will be singing it in the shower for days to come.
Set in ancient Rome, the story centers on the house of Senex (Jan Etchison) and his shrill wife, Domina (Lisa Wade), who have gone to visit her mother leaving their teenage son Hero (Jim Banta) in the care of their slaves, nervous Hysterium and conniving Pseudolus . Hero falls for the beautiful Philia, a young courtesan who lives next door. He offers to free Pseudolus if the slave can obtain her for him.
Amid all the physical craziness, Sondheim has packed plenty of wit and meaning into his masterfully rhyming lyrics. In “Free,” Psuedolus extols the joys and obligations of freedom, with snappy interjections by Hero. In another great duet, “Impossible,” Hero and his father Senex banter point and counterpoint on the topic of love. This song was SO well done and so touchingly funny.
The most memorable song and the show stopper, in my opinion, of the evening is “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” an addictive vaudevillian refrain launched by Senex and Pseudolus, that soon draws in Hysterium and Lycus (Sean Orlosky). Etchison breathes fun and exquisite timing into hen-pecked husband Senex. Orlosky brings his trademark double-take high energy and comic know-how to his portrayal of brothel owner Marcus Lycus. And what a find in Lancaster, who, as head slave Hysterium, reveals uncommon talent and skill in physical comedy. This threesome, along with Bateson, serve up a great treat in this number. This one had the whole audience in laughter and wanting to sing along and didn’t want the song to end.
As Senex’s overbearing wife, Domina, you will see real, authentic stage power in Lisa Wade. Finest performance I have seen her do.
Of course, we can’t overlook neighbor Lycus, and his house full of courtesans – Donna Light, Briana Walker, Katie Chase, Elysia Arntzen. Each girl dances her own dynamite seduction routine, decked out in Melanie Mortimer’s ingenious costumes for each personality
Ed Conley is perfectly over-the-top as the arrogant military captain, Miles Gloriosus, who has purchased Philia, and also I might add belted out a great song without a mic. I, personally, don’t like mics because they can ruin a beautiful song and singer when they cut in and out…..but….I am old and stuck in the “old school” of theatre. I can, however, see the advantage when they work correctly.
Completing the cast are a tireless trio – Neil Reinke, Carter Lloyd, Austin-Ian Light– who blur together in assorted roles from set-moving eunuchs to a stage full of soldiers.
Director Todd Terrell has a good knack for the timing and staging necessary to make all these comic pieces fit together seamlessly, and for the casting in the first place. At times I felt I was caught in a time warp somewhere between Vaudeville and the old “Laugh In” TV Show. Kudos! The actors often interact with the sumptuous buildings of David Sherrill’s set design creating sight gags that blend into the dialogue.
Although the 8-piece orchestra is hidden under the stage, Musical Director, Dr. Jennifer Arbogast, keeps the score and the action in sync.
Choreographer Cassie Alexander recreates just the right amount of dance for this show…. a little soft shoe and even a chorus line or two without ever letting it become too “dancey.” Kudos, too, for Domina’s distinctive hair design and make-up to Robert Dirden.
As “Comedy Tonight” explains, this is a show about FUN, plenty of FUN…..and that is what you will have when you come to see it!! If you say to yourself, “Oh, I have seen FORUM”…..No, you have not! Not this ONE. It is NEW and FRESH and must see!
Muncie Civic Theatre presents A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum on the Mainstage Theatre, July 20th-22nd & 26th-28th. Thursday through Saturday performances are at 7:30pm and the Sunday matinee on July 22nd is at 2:00pm. Tickets are $15 for adults and $7 for students