A Funny Thing Happened on
the Way to the Forum
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
A deliciously silly musical classic
|Porchlight Music Theatre presents|
|A Funny Thing Happened on Way to the Forum|
Review by Lauren Whalen
“A comedy tonight!” promises narrator and house slave Pseudolus in the opening tableau of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Not seen professionally in Chicago since the Goodman Theatre’s 1988 production, Forum is also a significant early achievement for Stephen Sondheim: the first show for which the now-legendary composer created both music and lyrics. Decades after its Broadway debut, Forum continues to delight with in-your-face farce and inherent silliness, and Porchlight Music Theatre’s interpretation (which includes a bonus song from Forum’s workshop days) is thoroughly enjoyable from first note to final curtain.
In Rome circa 200 B.C., Pseudolus (Bill Larkin) longs for freedom, and sees his opportunity when master Senex (Will Clinger) and mistress Domina (Caron Buinis) leave town. The couple’s 20-year-old son Hero (Miles Blim) has fallen in love with the girl next door, Philia (Sarah Lynn Robinson), but there’s just one problem: she’s a virgin courtesan, already sold to warrior Miles Gloriosus (Greg Zawada), who’s en route to claim his bride. Hero promises Pseudolus freedom in exchange for Philia, but matters are complicated by mistaken identity, interference from head house slave Hysterium (Matt Crowle), courtesan dealer Marcus Lycus (Lorenzo Rush, Jr.) and befuddled neighbor Erronius (Anthony Whitaker), still on the hunt for his two children stolen by pirates long ago. Wackiness ensues and Pseudolus is smack in the middle, a cheerful emcee and chief perpetrator of shenanigans.
Porchlight is renowned for their excellent vocals and wonderful production values, and Forum is no exception. Though the musical reads a bit dated at times, director Michael Weber guides the cast with a firm but loving hand and tight pacing, and Linda Madonia’s music direction is nothing short of flawless. Choreographer Brenda Didier relies a bit too much on dancers doing splits, but otherwise utilizes the ensemble’s skills very well – especially the impressive acrobatic skills of Britt-Marie Sivertsen, who plays flexible courtesan Vibrata. Madonia conducts a small but lively orchestra that adds another fun layer to the experience, and Megan Truscott’s scenic design is beautifully detailed with a showy theatrical aura.
Forum also boasts a strong cast comprised of Porchlight ensemble members, Chicago theater mainstays and exciting newcomers. Jason Grimm, Andrew Lund and Jaymes Osborne make up a hilarious Greek chorus of Proteans, portraying everyone from eunuchs to foot soldiers with wit and aplomb (and seamless split-second transitions). As formidable Miles Gloriosus, Zawada is humorously hulking, playing each moment for everything it’s worth, and Whitaker’s slightly senile Erronius is positively giggle-inducing. Crowle fully embraces Hysterium’s eagerness to please at any price and particularly shines in Forum’s second half when the slave is pushed far beyond his comfort zone. And as Philia, Robinson is gorgeous, tuneful and smart: she’s in on every joke with a brilliant smile and less-than-stellar mathematical abilities. Only Blim feels out of place in this stellar cast. While his voice is wonderful, the high school senior is clearly out of place in such an experienced group, reinforcing my belief that one should never cast a teenager when an older (young-looking) alternative is available.
Of course, Forum would not be complete without a capable and charismatic Pseudolus. Thankfully, Larkin is brilliant from beginning to end, guiding the action with every pratfall and pun and winking at the audience just enough. Larkin’s perfect interpretation goes a long way in making this Forum an utter delight, and reminds the audience exactly why the show is regarded as a musical comedy classic. Porchlight’s production emphasizes the cleverness lurking just below Forum’s lighthearted surface. Sondheim never sounded so good!
A Funny Thing Happened.. continues through May 24th at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 4pm and 8pm, Sundays 2pm. Tickets are $39-$45, and are available by phone (773-327-5252) or online through Vendini.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at PorchlightMusicTheatre.org. (Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Anthony La Penna
Bill Larkin (Pseudolus), Matthew Crowle (Hysterium), Lorenzo Rush, Jr. (Marcus Lycus), Will Clinger (Senex), Caron Buinis (Domina), Miles Blim (Hero), Sarah Lynn Robinson (Philia), Greg Zawada (Miles Gloriosus), Anthony Whitaker (Erronious), Neala Barron (Gymnasia), Ariana Cappaccitti (Tintinabula), Erica Evans (Panacea), Britt-Marie Sivertsen (Vibrata), Jason Grimm (Protean), Andrew Lund (Protean), Jaymes Osborne (Protean)
Understudies: Jason Richards (Standby for Pseudolus), Anthony Whitaker (Senex), Neala Barron (Domina), Andrew Lund (Hero), Zach Drane (Hysterium), Jason Grimm (Erronius, Lycus), Jaymes Osborne (Miles Gloriosus), Britt-Marie Sivertsen (Philia), Lindsay Loretta Prerost (Swing for Courtesans, Proteans), Zach Drane (Swing for Proteans)
Linda Madonia (conductor/piano), Dan Kristan (bass), Joey Zymonas (percussion), Corbin Andrick (reeds), Bryant Millet (trumpet), Jeff Livorsi (trombone)
behind the scenes
Michael Weber (director, artistic director), Scott Sowinski (assistant director), Linda Madonia (music director), Brenda Didier (choreography), Danny Spagnuolo (assistant choreographer), Megan Truscott (scenic design), Alexia Rutherford (costume design), Becca Jeffords (lighting design), Mealah Heidenreich (prop design), Thom Van Ermen (stage manager), Will Deleguardia (technical director), Aaron Shapiro (production manager), Stage Channel (video production), Anthony La Penna (photos)