Fortunately, you still have a whole weekend of performances left in which you might behold A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, a uniquely uproarious musical farce. The show was produced by MNM Theatre Company, a group that can be distinguished by its live music and its practice of showcasing exclusively Florida-based actors, which made the musicals more or less perfect casting and the sheer caliber of everyone onstage all the more impressive.
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum also happens to be the first work for which my beloved Stephen Sondheim wrote both the music and the lyrics. Though it is one of his more accessible shows, so accessible in fact that even my rare theatergoer of a father came along with me voluntarily, it is not devoid of the composer’s trademark wit and wordplay. This was especially evident in songs like “Impossible,” that rhyme “impassible” and “irascible” while pitting father Senex against son Hero in a battle for the lovely Philia’s affections.
Johnbarry Green served as the memorable and capable centerpiece of the show: Pseudolus, the slave whose quest for freedom set the rest of the play’s cascade of capers and mistaken identities into motion. He drew us in right away in the standout opening number “Comedy Tonight,” and easily maintained our attention show-long with his playful antics.
(Fun fact: the show was in danger of closing until the aforementioned number replaced an earlier opening song; the play then ended up running for 964 performances (more than two and a half years!)
J. Savage and Meg Frost as a young lover and ingenue Hero and Philia both exuded innocence and earnestness so endearing that you couldn’t help but root for them as a couple despite their characters’ apparent shallowness and idiocy.
Then there was the incredible Sean Williams Davis, whose booming voice immediately made a huge impression when he appeared as Miles Gloriosus midway through Act 2. His hugely dramatic reactions to his character’s unfortunate circumstances led to plenty of drolleries.
Aaron Bower as Domina also nailed her one major song and exuded a strong presence throughout the play, serving as a worthy opponent to the formidable Troy Stanley as her husband Senex. Even Stephen Eisenwasser, Frank Francisco, and Elijah Pearson-Martinez as the three Proteans, who had the unenviable task of shape-shifting into a variety of characters in order to fill out all the play’s minor roles, provided more than their fair share of hilarious moments.
If I had to find something to nitpick about Forum, it might be less the folly of MNM than of the script itself. Despite the cast’s excellent delivery of it, I couldn’t help but be put off by the blatant lecherousness of “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” by the fact that the character Philia had no aspirations or personality traits besides being “absolutely lovely,” or by the fact that Hero falls for her unquestioningly simply because she is. I also thought the costuming of the courtesans skewed a little male gaze-y and I would’ve appreciated if, well, any of the female characters had had a little more agency, but you know, no show can have everything, and it was written nearly 60 years ago. Forum had more than enough going for it to add up to an incredible evening.