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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Starring: Ensemble Cast
by: Bob Ainslie
Three stars (out of five)
"OH MAN - I AM GETTING LUCKY TONIGHT." They sure didn't
have girls like this on The Polkadot Door thinks Dennis Simpson as he
grabs his heart in the Grand Theatre's newest production.
By Ben Freedman
Although it's considered one of the last good translations of a Broadway musical to film, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum's return to a London stage doesn't make for the same smooth transition.
Stephen Sondheim's musical farce enjoyed international acclaim when it first appeared on world stages, so it's appropriate the Grand Theatre chose this classic to celebrate the theatre's centennial season.
An ironic thing happened on the way to The Grand though the musical production, meant to glorify the rich theatrical history of a London landmark, falters with a thoroughly average presentation of a script with previously confirmed potential.
The comedy revolves around Pseudolus (Denis Simpson), a cunning, quick-witted Roman slave, must steal a virgin courtesan from the local whorehouse for his master Hero (Jamie McKnight), who has fallen in love with said virgin.
Hero is willing to offer Pseudolus his freedom, but only if he can keep Philia (Callandra Dendias) from the abrasive conceit of Captain Miles Gloriosus (Gregory Cross). Unfortunately, Gloriosus has already paid for the woman's hand in marriage.
A plot packed with dramatic irony unfolds as each character is drawn into the chaos of an elaborate hoax.
Marcus Lycus (A. Frank Ruffo) is convinced by Pseudolus his fiancée has caught the plague. Pseudolus hides Philia in Hero's house, where his father Senex (Neil Foster) discovers her and tries to bed her.
The central attraction of this play rests with the quality of the music, which proves pleasant at times, but painful at others.
This tone is immediately set by the first two numbers. Before the stage lights brighten, the audience is introduced to the music with a long and draining overture.
The next piece, "Comedy Tonight," performed by the entire cast, breathes new life into the old musical. The choreography is captivating and the voices rhapsodic.
This is the general pattern of a performance that lacks consistency interrupting slumber and boredom with moments of brilliance and laughter.
The comedic grace of the three main actors highlights the production. Denis Simpson takes charge, often dominating the stage with the sheer elasticity of his face. Ed Sahely initially comes off as plastic and witless, but evolves into a hysterical character, complemented by fellow cast member Neil Foster's innocent lechery.
Unfortunately, the other actors fail to live up to the high standard set by the three leads.
Callandra Dendias was poorly cast as Philia. She seems incapable of playing the expensive call girl with any intensity. Her performance of "That'll Show Him," potentially one of the funniest numbers, seems oddly detached.
Miles Gloriosus is also a stretch for Gregory Cross, who lacks the comedic rhythm to pull off the imposing general.
Ultimately, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum functions in waves. Both blissful and sedating, it's an inappropriately unexceptional production.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum plays until Oct. 14 at the Grand Theatre. Tickets are available at the box office or by calling 672-8800.