Written by Daniella Litvak
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum’s (hereafter referred to as “A Funny Thing”) opening number makes a lot of guarantees to its audience. No kings will be grasping for crowns in this play. There will be “Something for everyone.” Most of all, no tragedy allowed because it’s a comedy. Does this farce about Roman slave Pseudolus helping his master woo the girl next door (in exchange for his freedom) deliver on its promises?
The first act’s pacing is not perfect. Some plot points and character observations get repeated over and over again. When the end of the act comes, it feels like the show could be wrapped up then and there with just a couple of extra minutes needed to tie up loose ends. Fortunately, the second act averts this problem with a much better flow.
As for the plot, it relies a lot on coincidences, transparent disguises, and people being incredibly gullible. It’s best not to let logic interfere with your enjoyment. To the show’s credit, it knows its plot is flimsy and makes sure the viewer’s attention is focused elsewhere. So the shenanigans, songs, and zingers keep coming, and the good writing makes it enjoyable to watch.
The music in this show is bland and many of the melodies sound the same. (Fun fact: A Funny Thing’s original Broadway run won several Tony Awards but did not receive a nomination for Best Original Score). Yet several songs get stuck in your head because of the snappy lyrics and great singing. There is not a single instance of the music overwhelming the vocalist. The high quality is consistent throughout the entire musical. I even liked “Pretty Little Picture” –a song frequently cut from the show.
Where there’s singing, there’s usually dancing. A Funny Thing has plenty of dancing. With the exception of the Geminae (a set of female twins) the number introducing the courtesans has each courtesan performing a solo in a different dance style. This gave characters that are mostly relegated to the background quite a bit of personality. The dancing is well done, but the show’s best choreography comes from the second act’s chase scene. Even though all the character and plot threads were involved, there is such clarity to the staging so it is always possible to follow along. From a social standpoint, A Funny Thing debuted in 1962, is set in ancient Rome, and draws inspiration from ancient Roman plays–so it’s portrayal of women isn’t exactly progressive. But it’s worth noting that the men –except maybe Pseudolus –don’t exactly come across as geniuses either, and almost no character escapes the fate of being mocked.
The cast is wonderful –every single member of it. Each actor is well suited to his or her role. The size of the part doesn’t matter because every actor had at least one memorable moment in the spotlight. It’s also nice how the script allows for the characters to interact with several other people onstage.
A Funny Thing possesses a lofty pedigree. It had successful runs and revivals on Broadway and the West End. It won several Tony Awards. In 1966 it was adapted into an Academy Award winning film starring Zero Mostel –who originated the role of Pseudolos on Broadway –that also features Buster Keaton’s last film appearance. Numerous productions have been and are being currently performed. The Attic’s A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum is a worthy addition to the pantheon. Set aside tragedies and morals and enjoy this comedy (tonight)!
AUG 27 – SEPT 27th
Side Note: The theatre gets a bit warm.
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