Porthouse Theatre’s ‘A Funny Thing...’ is a Roman holiday for the family
It is summer and the picnic tables are out and people are streaming to Blossom Music Center where Porthouse Theatre is once again open for all to enjoy. Families will gather and pack elaborate picnic dinners with all manner of gourmet foods, wines and desserts. It is all part of the Porthouse experience.
The reason people go to such lengths of feasting is because they are assured that the show of that evening will be top notch entertainment that will put a smile on everyone's face. The opening show for this season is a prime example. This year’s early offering is Burt Shevelove’s and Larry Gelbart’s “A Funny thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” with music by Stephen Sondheim.
The original show was not without its problems as it was going through its out of town run prior to hitting Broadway. The musical was not attracting an audience and was in trouble of closing. A hero was found in the form of Jerome Robbins who was known as the savior of musicals. He replaced the opening number “Love is in the Air” with “Comedy Tonight” and suddenly the show was transformed into a riotous show that featured comedy, love, cross dressing and farce. After all the tweaking, the show finally opened on Broadway in May of 1962 and ran for 964 performances earning numerous awards that included the 1962 Tony Award for Best Musical.
Pseudolus (Dylan Ratell) is a Roman slave of Hero (Anthony Ghali) but a crafty one at that. He wants nothing more than to be given his freedom. In the city, three houses are adjacent to each other. From left to right they are the house of Marcus Lycus (Joseph Ball) who buys and sells beautiful women. The center house belongs to Senex (Jay White) who lives there with his hen pecking wife Domina (Lara Troyer), their only son Hero and several slaves including crafty Pseudolus and Hysterium (Tim Culver) who is the head slave and an expert in making potions. To their right is the abode of Erronius (Rohn Thomas) who has spent the past twenty years searching for his son and daughter who were kidnapped by pirates as infants. He is seldom home.
Senex and Domina travel to visit her mother leaving Pseudolus in charge of the house and their son. Hero has fallen head over heels in love with Philia (Allison Sheski) who is the latest virgin acquisition of Marcus Lycus. Pseudolus promises Hero that he will help the young man win Philia’s heart even though she has been sold to Miles Gloriosus (Dante Murray) who will be arriving shortly to claim his prize.
Pseudolus lies to Lycus convincing the man that Philia’s overly happy disposition is the result of a plague that ravaged Crete (the place she came from) and her smiling is the last stages of the illness. He then offers to sequester the young lady in the house of Senex allowing Hero a chance to woo her as the couple falls in love. The first act sets the stage for the wild and rambunctious second act and a conclusion that blessedly ends with a happy ending for all.
This is a show rife with farce, puns, mistaken identity, sleeping potions and the state of class, sex and relationships in ancient Rome. There are slamming doors, Hysterium in drag, brother and sister awkwardly reunited, synchronized Roman soldiers and an array of Lycus’s beautiful and talented women.
The cast is excellent with show stopping tune after show stopping tune (too many to count) as well as wonderful dance numbers choreographed by Martin Cespedes. Terri Kent directs with an eye and ear for the whimsical. The orchestra while sufficient lacked any real brassiness (this is a farce after all and the music needs to be broader). Special kudos to LaBron Foy, Jake Kleve, Jared Warren, Michael Winner and Dominic Young as the soldiers and Proteans. The soldiers did an elaborate series of precision hand and leg moves that were an absolute delight.
Pack a basket full of goodies, break out the picnic gear and head out to Porthouse Theatre for this show. As always it is a shear delight of music, dancing and hilarity. Veni ad illudendum et affer totam familiam (Come for the fun of it and bring the entire family).
“A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum” will be on stage at Porthouse Theatre located on the grounds of Blossum Music Center through June 24, 2023. For more information and to order tickets go to www.kent.edu or call (330) 672-3884.