Entertainment » Theatre

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

by Steven  Skelley
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Sunday Mar 11, 2012
The cast of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"
The cast of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"  (Source:Titusville Playhouse)

Even 50 years after it debuted on Broadway in 1962, the irreverent and bawdy humor of "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum" stands the test of time and fills theaters with roars of laughter. The Titusville Theater production of the Tony Award-winning Stephen Sondheim classic hits all the right notes in this legendary musical farce.

The storyline follows the misadventures of a Roman slave named Pseudolus who connives to win his freedom by helping the son (Hero) of his master (Senex) gain the love of a virginal courtesan named Philia. The plan is complicated by the fact that Philia has already been sold to Captain Gloriosus, a deadly soldier who unsheathes his sword at the slightest provocation.

As if that isn't enough of a recipe for comedy, the house of Senex is located directly between the house of Erronius and the house of Lycus.

Erronius is an elderly man who is still searching for his children who were stolen by pirates years ago. Charlie Sullivan plays Erronius with a hilarious, few-fries-short-of-a-happy-meal senility angle. He is not even surprised when the pirates who took his children appear on stage. Two of them are seamen pirates and the third is a baseball cap wearing, baseball bat-carrying Pittsburgh Pirate. (You should be beginning to see the silliness of the script by now).

Senex's other neighbor Lycus, portrayed with just the right comedic touch by retired NASA Program Manager Jim Ball, is a buyer and seller of beautiful courtesans. His stable of available women for sale includes 1) two mirror image young ladies known as The Geminae; 2) an erotic belly dancer named Tintinabula; 3) a growling, untamed lioness of a woman named Vibrata; 4) a leather clad, whip carrying dominatrix named Gymnasia and; 5) the virgin Philia who, of course, has been purchased by Captain Gloriosus but has captured the heart of young Hero.

When Jesse Huffman who portrays Hysteria squeezes his giant linebacker’s body into a courtesan’s gown and blonde wig, he is more reminiscent of Bea Arthur than beautiful, young Philia -- and that is part of his charm.

Broadway veteran Patrick Ryan Sullivan portrays Hero's father Senex deftly. Senex is unfortunately married to Domina, a manipulative and overbearing loudmouth played to frightening perfection by Mindy Ward. With a marital set-up this good, you know something interesting is in store.

We soon learn that Senex has fallen head over heels in lust for Philia, the girl his own son is in love with. Domina, suspecting her husband of infidelity, throws herself repeatedly and unsuccessfully at Captain Gloriosus who has come to collect Philia whom he has purchased from Lycus and who is now the object of both Hero's and Senex's affections!

As Pseudolus weaves an impromptu web of comedic efforts to gain his freedom, he draws in his boss and the chief of the household slaves named Hysterium. Hysterium soon finds himself manipulated into the scheme, mixing knockout potions, and dressing in drag pretending to be Philia. When Jesse Huffman who portrays Hysteria squeezes his giant linebacker's body into a courtesan's gown and blonde wig, he is more reminiscent of Bea Arthur than beautiful, young Philia -- and that is part of his charm.

There are songs, jokes, and Three Stooges-type chase scenes throughout the entertaining performance. In the end, when Captain Gloriosus finally collects Philia, he is disappointed to learn that they are really brother and sister -- the senile Erronius' children who had been kidnapped by pirates in their childhood. This nullifies Gloriosus' purchase of Philia and allows her to marry the young love-struck Hero.

For me, the highlight of the production was the performance of Steven J. Heron. From the opening tune "A Comedy Tonight," to the closing curtain, he commanded the stage in both song and slapstick humor. At one point he even improvised current pop culture by dropping to one knee in a Tebow pose that brought a big laugh from the approving Florida audience.

"A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum" runs through March 11 at the Emma Parrish Theater/Titusville Playhouse, 301 Julia Street, Titusville. For info or tickets call 321-268-3711 or visit http://titusvilleplayhouse.com

Steven Skelley is a published author of several nonfiction works and the novella The Gargoyle Scrolls. He has been a newspaper columnist, travel writer, news writer, music director, creative arts director, theater reviewer and tennis instructor.


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