Written by Alina Mae Wilson
One of the hardest things for a script to ‘get right’ is comedy. Factors impacting a comedic storyline’s success include the age of the viewer, the cultural background of the viewer, and of course, simply each person’s individual preferences. I just had the pleasure of watching the Curtis Theater’s production of the musical comedy A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and while I would not consider the show perfectly timeless, it does come fairly close. The singing is good, the acting is great, and the actual jokes land with habitual smoothness again and again.
Hero is the handsome and dimwitted son of a wealthy couple in Ancient Rome. Pseudolus is his slave, and is constantly on the lookout for a way to earn his freedom. When Hero confesses his love for a high-class courtesan named Philia who lives next door, Pseudolus vows to obtain the beautiful blonde object of Hero’s affection in exchange for his freedom. Small details like money, parental approval, and the fact that a powerful and self-centered Roman captain with an ARMY is marching towards them to claim Philia as his bride have a habit of getting in the way. There’s also a lot of singing.
I’m not really sure how the set could be better. With the whole of the story taking place in front of three houses (that of Hero, Philia, and an old man named Erronius whose two children were abducted by pirates many years ago) everything physically needed for the plot is pointed out and explained within the first two minutes of the show. I know, it doesn’t sound like much. But just having these doorways, windows and balconies that people can pop their heads out of at will make for some great comedic moments. Everything looks bright and colorful, with just enough set detail to allow me to imagine the “offstage” scenery easily. It doesn’t feel like the actors are just walking behind a painted cardboard slat, it actually feels like they are walking into a house. Behind the house, into a garden. Or even peering out at you from behind a window. Costume designer Sarah Amayer really hit it out of the park here, every single person’s appearance fits their role beautifully and the old Roman designs are gorgeous.
Every single actor deserves a standing ovation. The energy given is phenomenal, the comedic timing is also delivered in just the right ways. Rebecca Butkivich as Philia, she is just a delight from the instant that we see her. Philia is “lovely” but pretty dimwitted. I feel like other actresses might overplay the part to really milk all the comedy they can, but Butkivich hits every note just right. Speaking of notes, the singing at the Curtis Theatre is quite good. Not perfect, but very, very strong. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum originally debuted on Broadway in 1962, and even though it features some famously memorable songs, most of the score just isn’t my thing. As far as enjoyability, most of the enjoyment comes from listening to the actors sing their notes well, and of course, the jokes in the songs.
Overall this is a great show. It’s energetic, pokes fun at overly-dramatic-dramas-of-old, and it features a memorable score. You would be hard-pressed to find a more professional production of this famous comedy.
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Very Funny, "Funny"
April 6, 2017, 9:19 pm
WARNING NOTE: Not for children.