Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
A talented Fenton Village Players cast launched their version of the Stephen Sondheim musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum this week. It’s a big show – colorful and funny – with live music, slapstick comedy, mistaken identity, complicated staging and loads of enthusiasm.
We were there Friday when, in true “show must go on” spirit, a last minute emergency caused director Stevie Visser to step into a lead role. The cast handled this with confident poise and only one or two missteps. Indeed, Bart Allen Burger nearly carried the show starting with his now solo opening (it was to be a duet) as the Prologus singing “Comedy Tonight”. He was terrific!
Burger melded smoothly into his major role as the house slave Pseudolus who spends all his time trying to earn his freedom from bondage in the house of Senex (played Friday by Visser). Senex and his wife, Domina (Danielle Blanchard) head off to the country leaving their slaves Hysterium (Donovan Leary) and Pseudolus in charge of the house and of their son Hero (Josiah Jackson). What can go wrong? Everything!
Right next door is the house of Marcus Lycus (Aaron Furman) the brothel master, and Hero has become seriously smitten with a lovely newcomer to the Lycus house. Turns out she’s already been sold to a Roman general, but Pseudolus sees this as a way to gain his freedom – he’ll get the girl for Hero!
Philia is the lovely damsel played sweetly and with charming expression by Taleena Williams. She isn’t a strong singer however and with the instrumental volume further hampering her efforts, much of her darling duet with Hero was drowned out.
Things soon get confusing as Philia’s proprietary general, Miles Gloriosus (Larry LaFerriere) approaches, Senex arrives back unexpectedly, and a long gone neighbor Erronius (Matt Osterberg) returns from his travels to find his house haunted (or so he’s led to believe). Central to these mix-ups and muddles are the two slaves trying to keep all their plans, plots and potions afloat in the midst of chaos.
Leary and Burger are hilarious as they ramrod nearly everyone in directions they would not have chosen all in the name of love. Often confounding their efforts however are the Proteans (Deb Campbell, Grace Lee, and Patti Lee) who serve alternately as guards and servants. Dressed identically (almost) in tunics and purple wigs, they really do look very much alike.
Did we mention the Courtesans? Lycus houses six of them besides Philia – Tintinabula (Judie Santo), Panacea (Dennis Spence, Jr.), Geminae I (Harvey), Geminae II (Sarah Dziadzio), Vibrata (Carla Feamster) and Gymnasia (Rolecia Marie). They are a spectacular bunch when all are on stage together!
FVP’s stage is wide and not so deep, but they always manage to design a space that fits the bill. This one finds music director Rafeal McDaniel and his musicians (William Mintline, Kristopher, Kress, Annadelle Kimber & Aaron Weeks) arrayed across the back of the stage with a buffering garden wall between them and the playing area. The buffer works fairly well, but with no body mikes in use, there are times when instrumental overpowers vocal.
Three “houses” make up the rest of the area and, except for some uncooperative swinging doors Friday, they serve the many exits and entrances quite well. Really central to the visual effect of this show are the costumes. Laura Williams Kline has done a marvelous job creating these unique, clever, and very colorful duds!
All in all, this Forum provides a truly entertaining night out. Friday’s audience was chuckling and even outright guffawing at the efforts of this enthusiastic troupe. So, if you feel like laughter might be good medicine amidst this dreary winter, you might consider comedy tonight!
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum continues at Fenton Village Players, 14197 Torrey Road, Fenton, MI 48430 weekends through March 5. For tickets and more info contact them at 810-750-7700 or www.fentontheatre.org