UMMTA’s 2015 production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum is exactly that – a light hearted fluffy comedy, but not much else.
With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove, A Funny Thing debut on Broadway in 1962 and has enjoyed successful runs and revivals ever since including; the West End, and a film adaptation. The musical tells the suggestive story of Pseudolus (Chris Anderson) – a slave in ancient Rome – and his attempts to win his freedom through helping his young master Hero (Andrew White) win over the girl next door, Philia (Danielle Carey). The plot includes the stock standard elements of farce with puns, mistaken identity, slamming doors, and satirical comments towards social class leaving the audience humoured.
With direction by Amy Bryans and musical direction by Taylen Furness the performance lacked a sense of energy that has made past seasons of this particular show such a success. This is quite surprising as both director and musical director are experienced. I can understand what their vision was, but the execution at times was somewhat clunky. Whether it be second night blues or the 50th run of the show, microphones weren’t turned up properly, some vocals were weak, some cast members were unsure of choreography doing a kick line with the wrong leg, and some queues came too early – ahead of the band – or were missed.
Lead performer Anderson truly was the star carrying this show on his shoulders. From opening to finale he didn’t stop with his comedic delivery, fantastic acting, passion, and stunning vocals.
A true performer. And if his directing skills are as good as his acting skills, his directorial debut with the 2016 production ‘Into The Woods’ in Geelong will be brilliant.
Sidekick to Anderson was the exaggerated and hysterical Jeremy Russo (Hysterium), providing brilliant theatrical timing and enthusiasm to his character. Clearly a seasoned performer, he never broke character and was incredibly passionate drawing the audience’s attention every time he entered on stage. Providing comedic relief throughout the performance were the Proteans (CJ Johnston, Benjamin Metha, and Harry Tibbals) and Matthew Le Get (Erronius) – all were clear crowd favourites. Other artists lacked strength in their delivery and execution of their performances. At times it came across weak, but again this could just be the early stages of the season.
Choreography by seasoned performer Catherine Spanti was creative and festive with a mix of technique and Broadway jazz. I could see from start to finish what her vision was and it’s as clear as day that this choreographer has passion and drive, and is an asset to the theatre community. Her “aerobic” type choreography with the three Proteans was especially imaginative and entertaining.
Lighting, staging, and props were simple and couldn’t be faltered. Sound at times was off and I got the feeling that the cast didn’t have a fold back to work off as execution of dance moves or vocals didn’t appear confident, or were off beat. The sets were simple which at times can be great, but for a 2.5 hour show there wasn’t any change with said scenery. Change is good and mixing up the scenery would have been nice. Costuming was a tad hit and miss at times. Some of the simpler Roman outfits were pleasing, but then the Courtesans outfits (and wigs) appeared quite tacky under the lighting. And if there are showgirls in the performance they must be in a high heel. A kitten heel just won’t do and won’t accentuate or extend those fabulous long legs.
Whilst not being UMMTA’s strongest production, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is light hearted, funny, and a comedic romp.