BWW Review: A FUNNY THING (ABSOLUTELY) HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM at the Garry Marshall Theatre!
The Garry Marshall Theatre (formerly the Falcon Theatre) is currently home to a new, hilarious revival of the Stephen Sondheim classic A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM. I admit, as an early 30-something audience goer, Sondheim hasn't always been a favorite. But with time and introductions to a variety of his musicals, I can officially call myself a fan. My initial education into musical theater consisted of RENT, '80s Andrew Lloyd Webber, and an obsessive turn with WICKED as a 19-year-old. Coincidentally, Joey McIntyre, currently starring in this production, played Fiyero just before I had seen it on Broadway. I'd missed him by mere weeks and with the theater located 15 minutes away from where I live, I was finally fortunate enough to see this wonderful company create a Broadway-caliber show in an intimate setting.
First performed in New York in the 1960s starring Zero Mostel and inspired by the writings of Plautus, an ancient Roman playwright, the style of comedy is reminiscent of classic vaudeville -- slapstick, big jokes, cases of mistaken identity, and breaking the fourth wall to include the audience into their jokes. This production, in particular, did a wonderful job of updating the play with jokes to make the material seem fresh and current. Normally, sometimes not an entertaining device on its own, but in this case within the context of the play? Absolutely hysterical.
For example, Joey McIntyre best known for his role in the popular group New Kids on the Block, performs several seconds of "You Got It (The Right Stuff)," dance moves and all, and the audience, comprised of plenty of New Kids fans and some non-New Kids fans, reacted with instant recognition. I'm sure this will change as he's left the production with his last performance on December 10th, having played the role of Pseudolus for three weeks. I have no doubt that this particular scene will be altered for something equally as memorable and as funny.
The Narrator of this story is Pseudolus, a slave in the household of Senex and Domina, wanting nothing more than his freedom, and finally finds an opportunity when his younger Master, Hero, falls in love with Philia, a courtesan he'd seen in a house of ill repute. Unfortunately, it's been discovered that she's already been sold to a Captain coming to claim her, and young love will have ended before it's begun. Well, with Pseudolus gunning for his freedom, he doesn't allow that to happen. What happens next is a series of comical scenes of mistaken identity involving Hero's father, Senex and another slave, Hysterium, and also a story of Erronius and his search to find his lost children kidnapped by pirates, and then the introduction of Miles Gloriosus, a perfect modern day Gaston from Beauty and the Beast.
Pseudolus calls for someone who needs to capture your attention, hold it, and have you rooting for him even through his schemes that go awry and he causes more problems than solutions. Joey McIntyre has that in spades. Not only charming, he carries an understanding of comedy, and really lets loose throughout the show. His powerful voice carried well within the space, able to navigate through the score with ease. Michael Thomas Grant as Hero, plays youthful and love struck so well with a strong, soaring voice to match. Perfect protagonist to play opposite Nicole Kaplan's naive, yet forthcoming, Philia. Though she's supposed to be the maiden in need of saving, she didn't need much saving. She managed to avoid major conflict by being at the right place at the time and Nicole Kaplan played this up so well. And let's talk about that voice. I sincerely hope she will be singing in my vicinity forever. Her voice carried the light and airy touch needed for Philia's innocence, but also booming when it needed to be. A beautiful soprano that needs to be experienced in person.
A trio of women played various characters throughout the show -- Roman soldiers, courtesans, townspeople, a seemingly endless parade of different characters in different dress. I couldn't take my eyes off of them, each, individually, such incredible talents and wonderful dancers! Shamicka Benn plays a memorable and mesmerizing Gymnasia. Liz Bustle looks very much the part of strong soldier, incredible dancer as Tintinabula. Vanessa Nichole is an incredibly impressive dancer and performer, one you won't soon forget long after the show's over. Ethan Cohn is absolutely hysterical as Hysterium (no pun intended, promise). His comedic style and beautiful voice so well-suited for this part. E.K. Dagenfield as Lycus and also as Erronius left me almost literally falling out of my chair with laughter, so well-poised, but also able to play both roles so well. Candi Milo is such a dominant present onstage (again, no puns intended) as her character, Domina. Strong, sexy, and pretty sensational as the beautiful wife of Senex.
Senex, played masterfully by Kevin Symons, seemed such a natural fit for the actor who carried himself like the master of a great house, haughty, but also with his own moments of naivete. He has such a beautiful voice and I'm glad we got to hear it for a portion of the performance. Clayton Snyder as Miles Gloriosus is an absolutely can't-miss sight as in...don't miss him playing this part at the Garry Marshall Theatre. I don't want to spoil it. You have to see it for yourself. He plays the role with such gusto, bravado, and a gorgeous voice to match.