note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
In fact, lots of funny things are happening at Stoneham Theatre’s season-opening production of Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart’s two-act musical comedy, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” because of the writers’ zany script, Stephen Sondheim’s double entendre lyrics and upbeat music, but primarily because of this production’s Boston star-studded cast.
In this wacky musical, based on ancient comedies of yore, slapstick, silliness, confusion and mistaken identity reign supreme. Helmed by Stoneham Artistic Director/Director Weylin Symes, the cast makes sure the audience shares the obvious fun they’re having together on stage, by making eye contact with individual theatergoers, pulling an unsuspecting “participant” on stage, spilling the action onto the theater floor, and running near the audience, evoking giggles and belly laughs.
Co-director Ilyse Robbins has crafted fast-paced choreography, perfectly timed with Matthew Stern & Co.’s fine musical accompaniment ; Matthew Lazure’s tri-tiered, three-house set is the ideal vehicle for door-slamming, window-popping, roof-sitting appearances, disappearances, and chases; and Elisabetta Polito’s costumes clearly define each character’s role and station in farcical Roman society.
Stoneham’s sweetheart, Kathy St. George, is a hoot, portraying diminutive, domineering,appropriately-named Roman wife, Domina; Mark Linehan unleashes the full power of his voice and persona as egotistical Roman Captain Miles Gloriosus, who is coming to the neighborhood to pick up Philia, young virgin courtesan he’s purchased from female slave procurer, Marcus Lycus (Liana Asim); and veteran actor Neil A. Casey ties the story together as narrator and primary character, Roman slave Pseudolus, who’ll do anything and stop at nothing to gain his freedom.
Portraying Roman house manager and Domina’s chief go-to person, Hysterium, John James Pirroni frantically runs around, living up to his name. He tries to maintain order but gets caught in Pseudolus’ whirlwind web of daffy double-crossing plans.
Acton-native, Boston theater darling, Jenna Lea Scott, makes several incredibly swift changes in her roles as a Roman protean soldier and Domina and her henpecked husband Senex’s (Chip Phillips) elderly next-door neighbor, Erronious, who spends years journeying on a land-and-sea search for his son and daughter who were captured by pirates. The only clue to their identity is the large ring that matches Erronius,’ with its gaggle of geese inscription the children were wearing when they were stolen.
After Erronious returns home and Pseudolus sends him on a wild goose chase, rounding the hills of Rome seven times, hoping to retrieve his longlost children, Scott hams it up with her impromptu groans and flatulence, passing by theatergoers and rounding the stage.
No question, though. Despite the fine comedic efforts of the cast and ensemble, Jordan Ahnquist portraying Domina’s young, innocent, teen-age son, Hero, and pretty newcomer, Devin Bean as pure-as-driven-snow/dumb blonde, Philia, steal the spotlight in their Act I lovestruck duets, “Lovely,” and “Pretty Little Picture”. Teen-ager Bean, former student of Stoneham Theatre’s young company. and senior at Winchester High School, glows, in Chris Fournier’s ethereal lighting. Rounding out the cast are Nicholas Davis, Maria LaRossa, Angelo McDonough andCeit M.Zweil.
BOX INFO: Two-act, Tony award-winning comedy, appearing as Stoneham Theatre’s season opener through Oct. 4, at the 395 Main St., Stoneham theater. Tickets, $50-$55; seniors, $45-$50; students, with valid ID, $20; Check for related programs. Performances: Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3,8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Call the Box Office at 781-279-2200 or visit www.stonehamtheatre.org.