Craig Nolan Highley & Corey Newt Hall in
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Photo courtesy of Shelby County Community Theatre.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Review by Rachel White

Shelby County Community Theatre gave a solid production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum on Saturday night. With a great energetic ensemble, some genuinely funny actors, and a couple of strong singing voices, the show took off at a great pace. These qualities are essential to Stephen Sondheim’s farcical, vaudevillian style musical set in ancient Rome. I had never actually seen this play performed, so in that sense it was a treat for me. 

As the director notes in the program, this musical, beyond some satirical social criticism, is basically a cartoon, and very little happens that isn’t in the name of pure silliness. The show’s premise is that Pseudolus, a Roman slave, is scheming for his freedom. He makes a deal with his master, Hero, that in exchange for his freedom, Pseudolus will hook Hero up with the beautiful courtesan Philia. The cast embraces the ridiculousness of the piece and takes character exaggerations to the extreme. There is one scene where the ditzy Philia tries to pull open a door that says push. She then leans on it in frustration and of course falls right through. There is a commitment to that kind of physical comedy throughout the production that keeps the play fresh and the action moving forward. 

Andrew K. McGill as Pseudolus is a bright actor and captured some of the craftiness of the character. He developed a strong rapport with the audience, and I could sense that he was holding the story together. Craig Nolan Highley as Hysterium, with his dead-pan delivery, had many strong moments and was one of the most grounded actors of the play. The scene where he pretends to be the dead Philia was one of the best scenes of the night. The ensemble parts were great fun as well and were extremely effective at moving the action along.

Other notables include Wayne C. Muscar as Senex, Hero’s father, who falls for the young Philia. His high tinny voice and rubbery facial expressions as he dreamily sings “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” makes him seem like an especially unsavory option for her.

The set is minimal and brightly colored, and the costumes are evocative of a farcical ancient Rome. The dresses of the courtesans are duly scandalous, with one character dressed like a modern day dominatrix.  All of this worked to support the overall humor and sensibility of the play.

The show began to drag a bit toward the end of the first act. The trap of this play is that it is so over the top that many of the characters can begin to feel one note. What may have helped is to even further differentiate a crafty character like Pseudolus from the other characters who are less conniving. If his intelligence and craftiness were specified even further, the ridiculousness of the other characters would have been enhanced in contrast.

This show is filled with unabashed wicked humor, dirty jokes, slapstick, sleeping potions and all the best tricks of the stage. It has a cast willing to commit to it all, which makes it a night of zany fun.    

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Directed by Mike Seely

Musical Director Lynne Chenault

July 20-22, 27-29, 2012

Shelby County Community Theatre

801 Main Street

Shelbyville, Kentucky 40065

(502) 633-0222