Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Ancient Rome takes the stage this week and next as Clio Cast & Crew presents the Stephen Sondheim musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. This Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart script (based on some ancient Roman plays by the playwright Plautus) is quirky, vaudevillian, and loaded with burlesque humor.
Leading the charge and controlling this show beginning with his terrific opener “Comedy Tonight” is William Kircher as the hilarious narrator and leading schemer, Pseudolus. A clown of the first order, Kircher’s mobile face and agile moves kept Friday’s audience in high chuckle throughout as he worked to gain his freedom.
As his subordinate slave and co-conspirator Hysterium, Mark Bonto lived up to the character’s name with his frenetic pace and incredible facial expressions. (He also makes a passing fair maiden, sorta.) These two are a hoot toward the end as they comically reprise the song “Lovely”.
Then there’s Steve Visser as Miles Gloriosus, a bombastic and conceited Greek hero-type warrior. Visser injects a comic pomp into his character’s demands that his purchased bride be delivered to him forthwith (“Bring Me My Bride”).
There are women in this show, but only in minor roles as courtesans to the “house” of Lycus, a quirky coward played with lots of humorous turns by Chris Dinnan. His bevy of beauties for sale or rent make up the female chorus.
One of Lycus’ lovelies is Philia (Jody Henderson). Recently procured, she has been sold to Gloriosus but not before she falls in love with the neighbor boy, Hero (Alex Vincent). Vincent makes a valiant effort to bring this tender lad to life even if his vocals are tenuous. He and Pseudolus strike a bargain that propels the action of the story forward, then backward, then around and around. But it’s all good fun.
Philia isn’t the brightest bulb in the box, and Henderson brings this empty-headed beauty alive. Her vocals are strong – “Lovely” is very nice and “That’ll Show Him” tickled the audience Friday.
Hero’s parents have gone to the country, but keep returning at inopportune moments. Ed Nelson plays the aging voyeur Senex who intimates he got married by mistake. When he joins with Kircher, Bonto, and Dinnan on “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid”, they nearly brought the house down.
Playing Domina, Jeri Hunjo is a hoot as the shrill and overbearing harridan positive that her husband is up to no good. (She’s right, of course!) She and Bonto handled the Act Two opening number “That Dirty Old Man” nicely.
Clio’s set crew worked overtime to produce the brightly colored Roman street complete with three residences, second floor windows, a balcony, a garden and at least two alleyway entrance/exits.
Director Maggie Harmon deserves appreciation for undertaking this clearly demanding endeavor. Comedies are difficult and require impeccable timing of which this cast was quite capable. Add music, especially the difficult Sondheim score, and the task is further complicated.
Gary King’s orchestra was clearly on top of the challenge with good support throughout even though they were backstage and out of sight.
We must applaud both clothing and dance as well. With the number of people on stage, both must have tested the expertise of those in charge. Kudos to Diane Weaver and her costume crew and to choreographer Brenda Rutkowski as well.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum continues Thursday through Saturday this weekend and next – May 10, 11, 12, 17, 18 & 19 at 7:30 pm. For tickets call 810-687-2588 or see their website for more information at www.cliocastandcrew.com