Review - A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Jim Dorman
The Patriot Ledger
November 15, 2007
Funny things happen at Curtain Call's 'Forum'

Once all 18 cast members welcome us with a rousing rendition of "Comedy Tonight" the odds seem pretty good that a night of fun and frivolity is about to ensue. Such is the magic of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," an enduring and bawdy farce about a very entertaining Roman family jubilantly presented by the Curtain Call Theater in Braintree.

"A Funny Thing" opened on Broadway in 1962. It featured music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. It starred Zero Mostel as Pseudolus, our host, with Phil Silvers and Nathan Lane handling the role in two subsequent revivals, with all three winning the Tony award for best actor in a musical. The show has won nine Tony awards in all.

In the story, the always scheming Pseudolus, a slave to young Hero, son of Senex and Domina, wishes to gain his freedom. He strikes a deal with Hero. If he can help him win the love of Philia, the virgin courtesan from the brothel next door, Pseudolus will be freed. Philia and Hero do fall in love, but Marcus Lycus (Bill Houldcroft Jr.), the brothel owner, has already promised her to Miles Gloriosus, a very fierce and egotistical warrior who is on his way to claim her. To prevent that, Pseudolus hatches one dubious plan after another to deceive the scary soldier. None of them work, but they do promote a plethora of comic potential involving mistaken identity, infidelity, sex, social commentary and cross dressing.

Martha Sawyer and Richard Carey direct Curtain Call's production with musical direction from Bryan Dunn. It features a talented group of local actors, singers and dancers performing in an intimate setting. David Edge plays Pseudolus and also Prologus, an actor who introduces the story before the action begins. In his roles, he often speaks to the audience and to a few audience members directly, even stealing a kiss at one point.

Edge is a congenial host and a fast-thinking Pseudolus. He never gives in no matter what he gets himself and his co-conspirators in to. Edge is appropriately harried and brazen throughout the performance, and he sings pretty well too, like on the surprisingly heartfelt "Free," a duet with Christ Tilden as Hero.

Tilden also sings and acts well while expressing the untainted longings of a young man. He and the "winsome" Valeska Cambron as Philia have immediate chemistry as the hopeful couple. Of course, any man might fall for Philia. She's beautiful, and her only desire is to love and please her man. Counting, spelling and thinking are not high on her priority list. Cambron, a trained opera singer, pleasingly demonstrates her talents while singing "Lovely" and "That'll Show Him" with Tilden.

Every actor in this show is in charge of comedy, but a few provide heightened levels. As his character's name suggests, Bob Parsons as Hysterium is one of them. Just before the chaotic finale, Hysterium agrees to pose as a seemingly deceased Philia. Let's just say that Parsons could not look any less like the fair Philia, but he is riotously funny.

Robert McGrath plays Senex, the randy head of household who misappropriates Philia for himself while Domina (Marianne Withington), his difficult wife, is away visiting her mother. McGrath is delightful as he discovers a fountain of youth in his new found lust. Together with Edge, Parsons and Houldcroft, he sings and dances to "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid," a politically incorrect but endearing homage to women that is a show highlight. Later, Withington manages to make Domina funny and even sweet while singing "That Dirty Old Man" to describe her love/hate relationship with Senex.

Despite all the previously mentioned talent, Scott Carney practically runs off with the show by providing us with a larger than life Gloriosus. The physically imposing Carney kicks the show into high gear with his vigorous and animated portrayal, which plays nicely against Pseudolus' desperate deceptions.