It was a very wet and dark drive out to Williamsburg to see the opening night performance of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. After attending the opening show of the season for Williamsburg Players, I liked the idea of being able to bookend the season. My daughter who is a Sondheim enthusiast was excited to have another date night with me. We usually enjoy theatre date nights, and this was no exception.
The Williamsburg Players are closing out their 2018-2019 season with this musical farce. It is a performance consisting of two acts. It is a story set on a street in Rome in front of three houses: House of Erronius which belongs to a man who lost his two young children when they were taken by pirates, House of Lycus which is a house of ill-repute, and House of Senex which is the home of a wealthy Roman who lives between the two other houses. He has a wife, a son, and two slaves.
The plot revolves around Pseudolus who is played by Neil Hollands. He is the slave to Hero, the son of Senex, who is played by Dylan George. Pseudolus wants his freedom and will go to any length to achieve this goal. He discovers that his young master has fallen in love with Philia (Alex Grigsby) who is a courtesan of the House of Lycus.
Unfortunately, Philia has been contracted to Miles Gloriosus (Brad Parks) who is a Captain in the Roman Legion. Pseudolus asks Hero for his freedom in exchange for bringing the young couple together. He devises a plan that only grows more and more outrageous as the story continues to bring Philia and Hero together. You will experience a plague, a chase, adventuring, not to mention mistaken identities, poisoning and many other obstacles as Pseudolus tries his best to earn his freedom.
Marty Bussert’s vision as director for this show is clear. He has some phenomenal talent on the stage, and he has guided them to some hilarious moments. For example, Hollands as Pseudolus carries the show effortlessly and offers a performance that reminds me of Danny Kaye in The Court Jester. He can sing, dance, and his delivery is exceptional. Even when he forgot a few lyrics in the show opening, he was able to dive right back in and keep going without skipping a beat with the help of his castmates. It was evident they had a strong bond and it was refreshing to watch.
George was a lovely surprise as Hero. I met him at the beginning of the season as the costume designer for Shakespeare in Love. It is nice when you see someone you know on the technical side of the stage surprise you and step out into another area of the theatre and excel. Dylan did just that. I enjoyed his lilting vocals and harmonies with Grigsby. They were well suited together both visually and as singers.
Danon Middleton plays Hysterium, the Slave in Charge. He is another phenomenal performer and in fact, he stole the show for me. His comedic timing, singing, and delivery were phenomenal. He embraced the zaniness of the character and embellished it just the right amount.
Parks’ performance as the Roman Captain is vainglorious, over the top, and simply spot on. The character had a good balance of ego, pride, and authority with just enough silliness to keep him likable and funny.
The cast is rounded out with Brink Miller as Senex, Marcia Dadds as Domina, Tony Gabriele as Marcus Lycus, and Terry Nienhuis as Erronius. Each of these actors brought strong performances embodying their respective characters with outstanding vocals and notable acting.
I would have to admit though that the first act ran a little long. My attention was lost during the introduction of the ladies from the House of Lycus. Some of the dancers seemed awkward and uncomfortable. I have to note, Kelsey Helmick’s portrayal of Gymnasia was a lot of fun to watch. Another choice that was distracting is how many performers had entrances from the back of the house. For me, I don’t like when you have so many actors off stage and in the audience. Not everyone can see all of the action, and it breaks the invisible plane that exists between the stage and the audience. I understand that there are times it should be used, but not all of the choices read well from the perspective of the audience.
The set was very similar to ‘Shakespeare in Love.” It was well constructed, but very simple. There wasn’t a lot of detail to the painting or decoration of the set. It wasn’t bad, it just needed a little something more to push it over the top to complement the talent on the stage. The same could be said of the costumes. There are a few looks that stand out, but overall it lacked vision. I did enjoy the props and how there were some present-day references. It added to the overall hilarity of the show. The lighting and sound were solid supporting roles and did well to emphasize the scenes.
I would be remiss if I did not applaud the orchestra. The live music is the pulse of the performance and the musicians were excellent. I can only imagine what it will sound like by the end of the run and they’ve had more time to gel as a whole.
My daughter and I would recommend seeing this show. It was a fun date night and worth the drive to Williamsburg from Virginia Beach. It is hilarious and well done.
You have two more weekends to see this production. You can get tickets online here or by calling their Box Office.