A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

It’s all togas and mischief at the Springville Playhouse this month, as Utah’s oldest community theater presents “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

A 1990 production of “Forum” broke Playhouse attendance records, and this one is jaunty and energetic enough — if not exactly the most polished show you’ll ever see — to do it again.

Stephen Sondheim’s most tuneful musical is a farce set in ancient Rome. A crafty slave named Pseudolus (Karl Young) desires his freedom and discovers a way to get it. His young master, Hero (Michael Pease), is in love with Philia (Kara Richins), a courtesan in the house of Marcus Lycus (Dane Allred). Pseudolus bargains with Hero that if he can get Philia for him, Hero will grant his freedom.

Philia has already been sold to the great warrior Miles Gloriosus (Daryl Tucker), which means a lot of conniving and weaselling will need to be done — especially with fellow slave Hysterium (John Gholdston) keeping a watchful eye on things while Hero’s parents are away.

It’s an enjoyably naughty show with no other intention than to be funny, which it is. John Gholdston’s Hysterium is a remarkably spry fellow, managing to seem both frantic and doddering at the same time. Michael Pease is appropriately moony and grinning as Hero, with Craig Dunford and Robinne Booth handing in strong performances as his parents.

As Pseudolus, Karl Young is playing a role that usually goes to younger men, but it doesn’t show. His singing voice is not strong (neither are a few others in the show); however, for a comedy role like this, it’s the funny bone that’s important, not a set of golden pipes.

Jeremy Showgren also provides great musical direction and piano accompaniment. The fact that the music is live, even if it’s only one instrument (with a few synthesizer embellishments), adds energy.

The only major mistake in the show is adding in a character named Madamia, Lycus’ mother. It’s unwise to introduce a completely new character into any existing show, but particularly into a farce that’s already as tightly written as “Forum.” In this case, Madamia merely stands around in each group scene, hollering to her son. She adds absolutely nothing — and to those who have seen the show before, she’s an annoyance, if for no other reason than that she’s just not supposed to be there.

But the theater’s intimate setting lends itself to the cast’s desire to mug to the audience and ham it up as much as possible. Don’t be surprised if characters address you directly while singing, or even physically harass — er, interact with — you on their way in and out. The up side of the close proximity is that when a freshly bathed Senex declares he smells great, the audience knows he’s speaking the truth. A show that smells as good as it looks is never a bad thing.

Some interesting comments were posted by anonymous folks (as always) on the Daily Herald Web site:

Gee wiz! Take it easy Snider, I went to the play in which you speak, [I didn't know I spoke in that show!] and I had no idea that Madamia Was not part of the script, she did not detract or was she an annoyance. The only thing annoying is you being so hard on her,And the fact that you gave this show of great quality a B+ rating, wow, it deserved an A+, the cast and acting was outstanding.

Do you not have anything better to do than to cut down and degrade?

I replied thus:

Being so hard on her"? You are aware that the person I'm being hard on is a fictional character, right? I doubt Madamia's feelings are hurt. (I said nothing about the actress who played her, who did fine, considering her role shouldn't have existed.)

As for your last question: "Do you not have anything better to do than to cut down and degrade?" Yes, I do. I can praise and compliment, too -- you know, like I did throughout this review. One criticism -- and a pretty valid one, too -- does not make this a mean, nasty, horrible review. It's a very positive review, with one significant criticism.

Apparently, some people are going to get angry no matter what you do....

Another comments we got:

O.K. so what, she is not soppose to be there, but I think it is a very ceative role. I personally did not see anything wrong with it. I did not find it annoying, but thanks for pointing it out, now when others go they will be sure to notice.

And I don't think that there opinion will be the same, maybe because they have an open mind, I would not have known that she was not soppose to be there if not pointed out by someone who cannot stand a little variety or creativity.

My question: How is a character who does nothing but stand around and scream, "Son!" an example of "variety" or "creativity"?