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Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Wick Theatre
Review by John Lariviere | Season Schedule

Also see Jeffrey's review of Picnic


Ken Jennings, Michael Scott, David Setteducati, and Michael Ursua
The Wick Theatre presents A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. The original Broadway production opened at the Alvin Theatre on May 8, 1962, before being transferred to the Mark Hellinger Theatre and the Majestic Theatre, where the show closed on August 29, 1964, after 964 performances. It garnered five Tony Awards in 1962 and was subsequently revived on Broadway in 1972 and again 1996.

The time is some two hundred years before the Christian Era. The place is a street in Rome, with the story focusing on just three homes. The first home belongs to Senex, housing his imposing wife Domina, his innocent, love-struck son Hero, and his troublesome servants Pseudolus and Hysterium. The second home belongs to Erronius, a slightly senile older man in search of his two long-lost children. The third house belongs to "businessman" Marcus Lycus and is filled with his collection of courtesans for sale and the eunuchs who guard them. The action miraculously all takes place on one curious Spring day.

Inspired by the farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus (251-183 BC), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum tells the bawdy story of a slave named Pseudolus and his attempts to win his freedom by helping his young master woo the girl next door (who happens to be virgin courtesan already sold to a new owner). The title of the musical is derived from a line often used by vaudevillian comedians to begin a story: "A funny thing happened on the way to the theater." Fittingly, the comedic style in which the story is written is filled with classic and silly vaudevillian humor. The lead role of Pseudolus is rightfully cast with a broad, physical comedian capable of improvisation and stand-up humor. Those seeking something profound and thought provoking are wise to remember the lyrics of the title song at the top of the show: "Tragedy tomorrow, Comedy tonight!"

Broadway veteran Ken Jennings is more than up to the nearly exhausting demands of the role of Pseudolus as he manipulates the characters around him. His energy is boundless, and his ability to remain present—reading the audience—and adapting to tiny prop and timing glitches is admirable. Michael Ursua as his counterpart Hysterium is very precise in everything he does, but somehow lacking in the organic process of the humor of his character. The scene in which Hysterium is disguised as Philia could be much funnier if handled with broader physical comedy. There is also an absence of a genuine on-stage connection between Ursua and Jennings that could put this entertaining show up and over the top.

David Setteducati as Lycus has a great handle on the broad humor of his used car-salesman like character. One could almost hear him saying "Hey, I know a guy that can hook you up with a great deal." Michael Scott masters the long suffering nature of Senex at the hands of his domineering wife Domina, played imperiously by Erika Amato.

With biceps ablaze, the dashing Jim Ballard nails the personification of the imposing and pompous soldier Miles Gloriosus. His singing is a bit battle worn, however, as he needs to work on oddly shaped diphthongs and an exaggerated vibrato that gets away from him. Whitney Winfield is well cast as the lovely but vapid Philia. She is paired with the handsome Christopher Brand as Hero. Brand truly has a lovely voice, though I question his casting as Hero against Jim Ballard as Miles Gloriosus (his rival for Philia). Ballard and Brand are about the same size, and Brand actually has more muscular legs than Ballard, when Gloriosus should tower physically over a younger, smaller Hero.

Some titillatingly provocative choreography for the Courtesans are highlighted through dance skills worthy of a Vegas revue. The three Proteans do more than double duty throughout the show as multiple characters providing generally slapstick comic relief. Surely they, along with Jennings, have the most fun during the show.

Though in need of some directorial tweaking, it would be hard for anyone in the audience not to have fun during this production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. After all, it's all just great silliness, sight gags, and mistaken identity.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum will be appearing at the Wick Theatre through November 1, 2015. The Wick Theatre & Costume Museum is located at 7901 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton, Florida. It houses a professional, 330-seat theatre company hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors, the Broadway Collection Costume Museum, and the Wick Tavern - open for lunch or dinner. For more information you may contact them by phone at 561-955-2333, 561-955-2333 or online at www.thewick.org.

Cast:
Pseudolus: Ken Jennings*
Hysterium: Michael Ursua*
Senex: Michael Scott*
Domina: Erika Amato*
Hero: Christopher Brand
Erronius: Troy Stanley
Miles Gloriosus: Jim Ballard*
Lycus: David Setteducati*
Philia: Whitney Winfield*
Tintinabula: Samantha Leibowitz
Panacea: Elizabeth Morgan
The Geminae: Lauren Kay & Kelly Ziegler
Vibrata: Alexa Barray
The Proteans: Brian DiRito, Wesley Slade and Ronen Bay

Crew:
Director: Bob Walton
Music Director: Eric Alsford
Choreography: Angela Morando-Thomas
Scenic Design: Thomas Mitchell
Lighting Design: Jose Santiago
Sound Design: Justin Thompson
Costume Design: Costume World Theatrical
Stage Manager: James Danford*

*Designates member of Actor's Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.


Photo: Amy Pasquantonio

-- John Lariviere


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