A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

Ben Sollee

The International Thespian Troup 3929 of Stanton Prep School presented a three-performance run of Stephen Sondheim’s 1962 hit musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, on the stage of Theatre Jacksonville. The physical plant at Stanton does not have an auditorium large enough to produce musicals and this year, as in past years, they have produced their major shows at Theatre Jacksonville.
Forum is based on the comedies of the 3rd century BC playwright Plautus and the book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart is a unique combination of Roman convention and American invention. It is timeless, and one of the funniest musical comedies every conceived. It is indeed a play with wit, aplomb and a sophisticated vulgarity that is truly unabashed. We loved it and so did the audience.
Set in ancient Rome, the crafty slave Pseudolus (played by Alexander Zane Farabee with super clown charm) wants his freedom and will do anything to get it. His master, the handsome and moody teenager, Hero (Joseph Bolling) desires a lovely but dumb blond Phila (Rachel Jaffe), who lives in the next house (which happens to be a house of ill-repute). Hero promises Pseudolus his freedom if he secures the woman for him.
There is a slight problem since Marcus Lycus (Troy Mendoza), a self-described “merchant of love”, has already sold Phila to a military captain, Miles Gloriosus (Brandon Holton). Pseudolus has to do some fancy conniving to deliver the goods to Hero, and has to work closely with his fellow slave, the befuddled and hysterical Hysterium (Tierman Middleton), who is watching over Hero while his parents Senex (Nathan Dennis) and Domina (Sadie La Manna) are away.
Things get farcically messy, with an elderly man, Erronius (Bo Phelan), trying to find his long-lost children, and the usual mistaken identities, wild and crazy entrances, exits, chase scenes, and even a man dressed like a woman. All of this is resolved at the conclusion.
Others in the cast included the hard working Proteans (Shala Brewer, Priscilla Brubeck and Christian Mercardo), who played multiple roles, zipping in and out all the time.
The eye-popping “working girls” of Marcus Lycus included Shelby Ellis (Tintinabula), Whitney Pietrykowski (Panacea), Jessica Alvarez and Gabriela Pena (Geminae), Shannon Smith (Vibrata) and Cori Clark (Gymnasia).
The three houses on the set were designed by Jessica Besecker, constructed at Stanton, and then trucked over to TJ. They added to the illusion of an ancient Roman setting, with artwork that included a painted frieze and a bas-relief panel. They fulfilled another important function as well, by providing three doors and a balcony for the chase scenes.
Theatre Jacksonville Tracy Olin, costumer extraordinaire, created costumes that spanned a range of Roman fashions, including colorful tunics, filmy skirts and glittery tops, and armour. Obioma Ezinwa was the Costume Manager.
Jeff Wagoner, TJ’s Technical Director, created the lighting design. Laura Mauldin contributed the choreography and some additional musical staging. The principal actors were miked, with a system Stanton bought in and Andrew Douglass did an excellent job of mixing the sound so we could hear every word loud and clear from front to back. Musical Director Ellen Milligan led the three-piece orchestra on the piano, with Kevin Griggs on percussion and Jim Bolling on bass. Kathryne Krueger handled the important Stage Manager’s position.
The students sang the wacky wonderful songs well, like “Everybody Ought to have a Maid”, “Impossible” and “Lovely” and they were certainly very funny. Director Jeff Grove’s excellent direction kept this a fast-paced show that was obviously well rehearsed with all the actors exhibiting the fine comic timing necessary for good farce. And thanks Stanton, for making the ticket price ($10) so reasonable – it was like receiving an early Christmas present.