A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – Phoenix Theatre Company
Submitted by Allison Hilbig, Saturday 26th May, 2012
The last time I saw this musical was in 1999 at the Arts Centre, presented by Essgee Productions. I could only remember that it was funny – I couldn't actually recall any of the songs. So I arrived at Doncaster's Playhouse Theatre wondering if I would actually know any of the musical numbers. A quick scan of the program, and I immediately recognised the opening number “Comedy Tonight” but still could not recall any of the other songs.
This was my first experience of the Phoenix Theatre Company and glancing through the program before the show started I was impressed with the program design and quality of the experienced cast listed. My next impression was the rather small performance space of the Playhouse stage and intimacy of the theatre.
Set designer Brent Van Vliet has done an excellent job in designing an attractive set that works well within the limited presentation space. The cast used every space of the available stage without it appearing too small or overcrowded. The band was located off stage in a wing, and the sound carried well into the theatre. However, a strategically placed curtain at the top of the wing would have prevented a light over the band from distracting the upper sections of the audience during certain scenes.
In the opening number, “Comedy Tonight,” several performers were difficult to hear over the band and so some of the story-telling introduction was lost for those towards the rear of the audience. This was a bright opening song and it was a shame that the sound balance was not quite right for some of the soloists. However, when the full ensemble performed together at the end of this opening number, the balance of the sounds of each voice and the band was excellent. Congratulations to musical director Katie Packer and sound designer Michael Parsons on producing such a surprisingly rich and crisp high-quality ensemble sound.
Ross McKinnon opened the show as a confident Pseudolos, and although there were a few moments when I felt his reactions to certain lines in the first act could have been bolder or stronger, he played the part well, confidently engaging the audience without hesitation.
Nicholas Barca started off a little slowly as the show's love-struck virtuous hero, aptly named Hero, but quickly warmed into the role. He was sweet, innocent and charming and suited the part well. Hero's love interest, Philia, was played by Claire de Freitas. She confidently sang her way through the Sondheim numbers, but I was particularly impressed with the clarity of her diction in the song “That'll Show Him.” It's a very funny song that relies on clear articulation for the audience to understand the story being told – not an easy task with a high soprano voice, but de Freitas managed this very well, rewarded by much laughter.
Steven Keane (Senex) and Rebecca Muratore (Domina) were strong and confident in their supporting roles as the parents of Hero, providing many comic moments through the show. Tamblyn Smith, as Miles Gloriosus, was hilarious, and a few stray notes in the upper register of his songs were forgiven as he performed with such an arrogant charm.
Dale Hall and Bradley Storer, as Hysterium and Marcus Lycus resprectively, were fabulous with excellent comedic timing. Their appropriately over-the-top performances were hilarious and, at one stage, I thought I was watching “Carry On - The Musical.” A slight wardrobe malfunction with Hysterium's wig in act two simply added to the fun and was well handled by the cast … to the point that I wondered if it was in fact a deliberate malfunction.
The ensemble choreography was simple, but effective, with more complex routines demonstrated by the individual courtesan girls which showed their true abilities and added good variety. Overall, the costumes were well done, but some of the courtesan outfits confused me a little as to whether they really suited the early Roman era. I have to admit that I was a little anxious that there would be a major wardrobe malfunction from Domina, as her cleavage seemingly bulged out of her costume, but thankfully, it didn't happen and instead her cleavage was suitably used to provide some visual gags in her solo number “That Dirty Old Man.”
Erronius, played by Don Harrod, was very difficult to both understand and hear, and came across as mumbling and bumbling old man. The character was probably the only real low point in the show. However, despite this, he managed to produce some of the biggest audience laughs each time he wandered across the stage and “counted his laps”. In fact, I would have liked to have seen one final lap count from Erronius to break up the chase scene which became a little tedious toward the end.
What impressed me the most about this production was that director/choreographer Renee Maloney and production manager Craig Maloney managed to pull together such a good production in just ten weeks of rehearsal time after the cancellation of their originally planned show. There were a few obviously missed lighting cues and the sound balance wasn't quite right at the start, but apart from those small faults, the show moved well, the timing was good, the singing was strong for a community theatre group and there were plenty of laughs from the audience.
I still can't recall any of the actual songs from the show (except for Comedy Tonight) but I do remember it was very funny.