Wednesday, December 29, 2010


The entire acting company, with Bruce Dow as Pseudolus in the centre. Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

Reviewed by James Karas

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum is an old Broadway musical (opened in 1962) that offers all that you can ask for from a musical. It has some wonderful songs, a good plot, verbal and slapstick humour and a love story. There is also some dancing and “something for everyone” as Pseudolus, its lead character would say.
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival produced the musical in 2009 and David Mirvish has brought it back to the Canon Theatre in time for Christmas and for the January blues.
The production is directed by Des McAnuff, the Artistic Director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. McAnuff, like all directors, I suppose, wants to put his mark on every production in bold letters. He believes that comedy should be broad and if a director can think of a gag or a pratfall or any stage business that will produce a laugh he should use it.
One may argue that not every gag is appropriate even if it may appear to be funny. The character as developed or the situation may not call for such a gag and, perhaps, just perhaps, it should be avoided, even if it is the brainchild of such a talented director as Des McAnuff. Not likely. Is it funny to see the three Proteans in modern sailor’s hats or watch their turquoise underwear? Not really.
To be fair, the authors of A Funny Thing perceived their show as a “scenario for vaudevillians” where many tricks were “intended to be supplied by the actor.” That is license enough, if any were needed, for any director to go to market inventing whatever business he wants. But there are limits. When Prologus sings the wonderful opening number, “Comedy Tonight”, and farts on the words “Something repulsive” is he really being funny?
A Funny Thing is based on ideas and characters that Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart took from the plays of Plautus (about 254 to 184 B.C.), the great Roman playwright who laid the groundwork for so much of the comedy of the past couple thousand years. The young lovers that outwit their elders, the clever servant who manipulates his masters and other comic standbys all have their predecessors in Plautus.
Pseudolus is an illiterate but clever slave who works in the house of Senex in Rome a couple of hundred years before Christ. Pseudolus has left a host of heirs from Sancho Panza to Figaro to Jeeves. For this production we have Sean Cullen and Bruce Dow alternating in the role. I saw Dow’s opening night performance. He uses what the creators of the show gave him and McAnuff’s bag of tricks to reasonable effect and does get a few laughs. He is a slave who will do anything to gain his freedom.
Senex (Randy Hughson) is a horny old man who is put upon by his imperious wife Domina (Deann deGruijter). She is a screeching bitch, while he tries to get lucky with the virginal Philia (Chilina Kennedy). Philia is in love with his son Hero (Mike Nadajewski) but has already been sold to the pompous Miles Gloriosus (Dan Chameroy).
In order to gain his freedom Pseudolus must outwit Miles, Philia’s owner Marcus Lycus (Cliff Saunders) and chief slave Hysterium (Steven Sutcliffe). And he only has a couple of hours in which to do it.
The romp through the streets of Rome should be full of laughter and joy. The Proteans have all kinds of pratfalls, the Courtesans display their well-developed talents, and the lovers sing “Lovely”. Senex and the rest of the company sing “Everybody Ought To Have A Maid”.
It should be a delicious romp but it rarely rises to the occasion. It is mostly flat and uninspired. They all seem to be trying very hard without getting the desired response from the audience. 
The small orchestra sounded thin and perhaps was one of the reasons for the unfortunate result.
Miking has become a fact of life and in a huge theatre like the Canon the idea of no microphones may be a non-starter. But that does not change the basic fact that the microphones may add volume but they add nothing else.
A disappointment made worse by high expectations of seeing a favourite musical again.   

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart (book) and Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) opened on December 18 and will run until January 16, 2011 at The Canon Theatre 244 Victoria St. Toronto.


No comments:

Post a Comment