Sunday, August 7, 2016

"A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum"--Rome Like You Never Seen it Before

Friends, Romans, and Summervillians, lend me your ears. Director JC Conway and crew are up to some funny business at the James F. Dean Theatre in Summerville with Stephen Sondheim's uproariously rumpus, sumptuously pompous, and abnormally anomalous musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. Shall they be buried or shall they be praised?

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum is a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbartis turned into a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It is a historically wacky story set in a Roman neighborhood of three homes. The house of Senex is in the center. He lives there with wife Domina, son Hero, and several slaves, including head slave Hysterium and the musicals main character Pseudolus. One of the neighboring houses is owned by Marcus Lycus. He is a buyer and seller of beautiful women. The third home belongs to the aged Erronius. He is abroad searching for his long-lost children, who were stolen in infancy by pirates.

Pseudolus is fortuitously presented with an opportunity. His young, boneheaded master, Hero, confides to him he has fallen in love with the golden haired beauty that lives next door in the house of Lychus, who happens to be a virgin courtesan by the name of Philia that has a problem with the numbers three and five. Pseudolus promises to help him win Philia's love in exchange for his own freedom, and the romp takes off. Pseudolus' road to freedom becomes fraught with doubt, temptation, deception, chastisement, and a surprising twist in the end.

Debuting with Pseudolus (Joseph Demerly) and incrementally incorporating the full cast, the opening number of the play, "Comedy Night", blew the roof of the house. It was a momentous start. From there, Demerly's high octane energy gloriously propelled the musical romp all the way to its "Finale". A multifaceted talent, Demerly is no stranger to "Forum" having done it on three other occasions playing different characters.

Alan Rosenfeld (Senex), Corey Geddings (Hysterium), and Jamie Young (Marcus Lycus) put in noteworthy performances. The three of them teamed up with Demerly in one of the plays more delightful and humorous songs as they fantasized the fringe benefits of "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid". In addition, larger-than-life Geddings, sporting a blonde wig and masquerading as a much bigger Philia, drew a special hurrah from the audience for his scene-stealing rendition of "Lovely" (elegantly sang earlier in the play by Anna-Noelle Kassing) and Jamie Young's snaky, slimy, lecherous procurer of courtesans character was nicely portrayed with a splash of comedic paranoia.

The rest of the supporting cast included Lisa Grooms as the battle-ax wife of Senex, Domina, and Christian Mahon as the lovesick Hero. Anna-Noelle Kassing as the young, beautiful, and dumb virgin courtesan-in-training, Philia, provided some crisp vocals. Daniel Rich's voluminous volcanic voice erupted throughout the theater as the pompous and braggart soldier, Miles Gloriosus, and Barry Gordon as the befuddled old man who is the Roman equivalent of Mr. Magoo taking it around one more time.

Kudos to Robert Venne, Tabatha Doetsch, and Alan Garner as the Proteans. whose load also included portraying slaves, citizens, soldiers, and eunuchs. Likewise to Sarah Morrison, whose accompanying piano music was flawless.

It is Rome like you never seen it before and makes you wonder how they ever conquered the then civilized world. The set is eye-popping, functional to the action, and a brightly painted stage on which a thousand dramas can be played. The costumes designed by Nicole Harrison were historically convincing and colorful. And, like any decent Roman farse, there is a bevy of beautiful dancing girls and plenty of sight gags, puns, and laughs.

Returning to the earlier question: Shall they be buried or shall they be praised? I have put in my twenty mina worth. What say you? Check it out for yourself and put in your 500 mina worth.

Now showing from August 5th to 21st. Purchase your tickets.

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