BWW Review: The Opera House Players' A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM
As the opening number "Comedy Tonight" states, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, the classic musical from Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, aims to have "something familiar, something peculiar, and something for everyone." And while, in 2019, this remains mostly true, the bawdy farce, written almost 57 years ago, does raise some eyebrows in today's #metoo world. That said, the production of FORUM currently being produced by the Opera House Players at the Enfield Annex (their temporary home in Enfield, CT) is fun, energetic and high-spirited.
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM is a classic farce with all the expected tropes - fast-paced, punny dialogue, mistaken identities with ridiculous costumes, all presented with more than a hint of social commentary. The musical tells the story of Pseudolus (Dennis J. Scott) an enterprising slave to Hero (Patrick Connolly) son of Senex (Frederick Goff) and Domina (Becca Greene-Van Horn). They live on the same street in ancient Rome as Marcus Lycus (David Leslie) who runs a brothel and provides "courtesans" to paying customers, and the empty home of Erronius (Harry Evageliou) who has been away for 20 years searching for his long, lost children. When Hero falls in love (from afar) with Philia (Mallory Wray), the latest arrival to the house of ill repute next door, Pseudolus offers to help him win her heart in exchange for his freedom. The only problem is she has already been sold to a great Roman captain, Miles Gloriosus (Tim Reilly), causing Pseudolus to employ every trick in his book to make the match. All of this happens under the nose of Hysterium (Rick Fountain) the slave who serves as head of Senex and Domina's household and aims to keep everything above board. As with any good farce, hilarity ensues which, after many fits and starts, leads to an unlikely, yet happy ending for the residents of this quiet Roman street.
As noted above, while it does reflect the attitudes of the time it was written, some of the plot of A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM stands out like a sore thumb in today's world. For example, all of the female characters (with the exception of one) exist only to be ogled (and purchased) for the pleasure of the men. As an audience member, if you can get past this by looking at this piece through an historical (or farcical) lens, then the rest of the story still holds up as a genuinely funny comedy. In the Opera House Players production, George LaVoice, as director, takes full advantage of the very large Enfield Annex stage (which contrasts greatly with the troupe's former Broad Brook Opera House stage). He keeps the action moving (which can be quite frenetic at times) and pulls out the right amount of ham from the cast.
Speaking of the cast, one of the things I can always count on from an Opera House Players production is an ensemble that looks like they are having the time of their lives. A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM is no exception. The large cast of 18 players each have a chance in the spotlight and many take full advantage of that to show off their acting and singing chops. A few standout performances worth noting - First, as Pseudolus, Dennis J. Scott does a fabulous job narrating the tale, orchestrating the madness on stage, and playing well the part of the very smart and resourceful slave. His facial expressions, alone, often elicit laughs and he is a lot of fun to watch. Rick Fountain, as Pseudolus' fellow slave and straight-man foil, Hysterium, is, as you might expect by the name, hysterical (in more ways than one). He delivers a high-energy and manic performance, especially in his hilarious number "I'm Calm" and in his role during the funeral sequence. Becca Greene-Van Horn is quite good as the domineering mother, Domina, with a bellowing scream that will make your spine chill, and a lovely delivery of her second act number, "That Dirt Old Man". Finally, as Miles Gloriosus, Tim Reilly is the perfect mix of swagger, masculine bravado and military prowess. His preening and strutting across the stage is fun to watch and in his delivery of "Bring Me My Bride" he shows off a beautiful and strong voice that was a thrill to hear.
From a creative perspective, Francisco Aguas' set is bright and functional and Diane St. Amand's lighting design brings that set to vivid life on stage. After having to stretch their creativity so many times on the tiny stage in Broad Brook, I am sure this team is thrilled to work in such a large space. Karen Anne McMahon's choreography is simple, yet effective, and Mark Ceppetelli does a great job as music director, leading a small, but mighty, orchestra of four in the pit.
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM is a fun, though as mentioned, dated musical with a lovely and tuneful Stephen Sondheim score. The Opera House Players do a fine job bringing this farce to life with much effort and energy, all while having a thrill of a time doing it.