All roads led to Rome on Saturday for a night of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Town Hall Theatre. The Littleton production of this classic musical comedy is here in for a limited engagement with local actor, Scott McLean in the role of Pseudolus.
Inspired by the farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus, the show was a huge success when it premiered on Broadway in 1962. And while the times have certainly changed, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is still a crowd-pleaser. Loaded with bawdy humour, mistaken identities, slapstick gags, tricks and schticks, this production is a first-class theatrical achievement. Stephen Sondheim’s light-hearted melodies are so catchy you’ll be humming “A Comedy Tonight” and “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” for days.
The story follows Pseudolus the cunning slave (McLean) as he attempts to buy his freedom by helping his inexperienced young master Hero (Drew Hirschboeck) win the heart of Philia (Jacquie Jo Billings) the lovely courtesan next door. And as the title of the musical suggests, madcap antics and confusion ensue.
All of the cast are skilled performers. McLean is most definitely the star of the show as the delightfully charming and cheeky Pseudolus. His unwavering energy moves the production along at a steady pace and we root for him all the way. Billings is adorable as the bubbleheaded Philia — during her musical numbers she flawlessly mixes just enough comedy with genuine romance to make each piece quite the treat.
Rob Janzen also steals more than a few scenes as Hysterium, the frantic chief slave in the house of Senex. Audiences will particularly enjoy his impersonation of Philia (in drag) and his hilarious reprise of the song “Lovely.” It’s a moment that certainly caused more than a slight chuckle among the audience.
As good as they are — Carla Kaiser Kotrc is particularly so — she consistently creates laughs as she portrays the loud mouth, bossy Domina. Though not on stage much, she takes advantage of every second with quiet humor that to some may go unnoticed but for those who manage to sneak a peak is a reward.
Whimsical is the word for the three youthful Proteans, carrying off dozens of roles with the switch of a hat, schmatte or plate of armor. Consisting of Benjy Schirm, Joe Majestic and Chris Russell, the three make strong impressions in quick strokes.
Last but certainly not least, what is “Forum” without a handful of delicious women, so more than others but still all quite beautiful. Lisa Finnerty stands out as a vision in yellow as the more than striking Panacea. Melissa Morris moves around the stage like butter dancing, spinning and twirling effortlessly as Tintinabula. And possibly in one of the weirdest ladies in the House of Lycus is Anna Gibson who manages to make purring like a cat quite sexy. With these three ladies on stage it’s hard to focus anywhere else, even on the “twins.”
This genre of semi-cheese comedy may not be for everyone, some of the jokes are a bit lame by today’s standard or even pushed maybe a little to far but if you listen closely there are quite a few hidden joke gems hidden throughout the show. Some of the blatant ad libs were audience favorites. The actors are able shine under the direction of Bob Wells, and the clever writing and score by Sondheim must be appreciated.
I thoroughly enjoyed this performance and left the theatre with a big smile on my face. My advice to the cynics out there is to surrender yourself to the feel-good silliness of it all. As the old saying goes, “When in Rome!”