Bill Hanney, new owner and producer of the historic Theatre By The Sea in Matunuck, RI which first opened in 1933, reopens his summer theatre with Stephen Sondheim's nine-time Tony Award-winning musical comedy, ''A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum". The show is a combination of the hilarious illogical antics of the 2000 year old comedies of Roman playwright Plautus and the zany, infectious energy of a classic vaudeville show and was written by Larry Gelbart who also wrote "Mash". "Forum'' was Stephen Sondheim's first show in 1962 as a composer and lyricist and it ran on Broadway for 964 performances. It starred Zero Moster as Pseudolous, the slave who in a desperate attempt to win his freedom, tries to help his young master, Hero, win the love of a young virgin named Philia. Meanwhile, Pseudolous has to outsmart Hero's parents, the courtesan procurer, Lycus and the man who already paid for Philia, Miles Gloriosus, a narcissistic Roman captain. Throw in a nervous slave named Hysterium, an old man, Erronius who is searching for his missing children, six courtesans and three Proteans who play soldiers, eunuchs and various roles in this show. Director and producing artistic director, Amiee Turner casts these wacky 18 roles perfectly while musical director Tim Robertson not only plays the lead keyboard and conducts his topnotch orchestra but taught all the difficult Sondheim songs with ease while choreographer Andrea Eskin creates some energetic and humorous vaudeville type dances and movements that stop the show with their brilliance. With the aid of managing producer Joel Kipper who makes sure everything runs smoothly, the return of Theatre by the Sea is greeted with a thunderous standing ovation at this masterpiece theatrical production and the enthusiastic audience is looking for many more outstanding shows next year from Bill, Amiee and Joel. Bravo and welcome back.
Amiee pays attention to every detail of the show including blocking and line interpretations. She brings out the best in her cast and the finished product is a reflection of her hard work. Tim and his orchestra sound terrific. Andrea's dance for "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" stops the show with it's excellence and her choreography for the courtesans and soldiers in "Bring Me My Bride" and the Funeral Sequence is splendid, too. Her best work is with the Proteans (Brian Bailey, Tyler Fish and Jeremy Jonet) who dance, prance, flip and somersault across the stage nimbly and change into different characters so quickly that are like whirling dervishes on the stage. The gorgeous costumes were by Amanda Downing Carney who recently married Joe, who she met while performing in "Fame" at PPAC. She also ran wardrobe at TBTS in 2001 & 2002. Walter Trarbach returns to the theatre as the sound designer, a position he held from 2001 to 2003. He just got married to months ago to Kim Witham who he met while working here in Matunuck. The fabulous lighting is by award winning designer, Michael Beyer. The stage manager Jared Casey and his assistant, Andrew Michaelson keep things running smoothly backstage and onstage with all the numerous entrances and exits especially during the chase scenes in the second act.
Jean-Pierre Ferragamo gives a tour de force performance as Pseudolus, delivering his multitude of lines and songs perfectly. His facial expressions are priceless and his energy is boundless as he captivates the audience with his talent. Jean-Pierre's singing is wonderful, too and his many numbers include the lead vocals in "Comedy Tonight", the duets, "Free" and "Lovely'' reprise, the trio "Pretty Little Picture" and the hilarious quartet number "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid". Bravo on a fantastic performance. Another strong vocalist is William Nash Broyles as Hero who captures the boyish charm of the role. He shows off his voice in "Love I Hear" where he falls in love at first sight with the virgin next door. William also sings in the duets, "Free", "Lovely" and "Impossible". The latter one with his father is another comic gem of a song where they each think it is impossible for them to be in love with Philia. The not too bright but beautiful virgin, Philia is wonderfully played by Evy Ortiz. She gets to show off her soprano voice in "Lovely" where she sings about not being able to do anything but just look beautiful and in "That'll Show Him'' where she sings about how she will be thinking of Hero while her intended groom woos her.
The henpecked husband and father, Senex is excellently played by Bob Del Pazzo who made his professional debut as Sancho in "Man of La Mancha" here at TBTS in 1979 and performed in 16 productions here over the next six years under the auspices of Producer Tommy Brent. He steals many scenes during the night while in pursuit of the virgin that he thinks is his new maid as well as in the crazy farcical misunderstandings swirling around him. Bob stops the show with his lustful lyrics in the Maid number and in the duet, "Impossible" with Hero. His shrewish wife, Domina is beautifully played by Gail Yudain who brings about gales of laughter with just giving the audience a look of disapproval. She shrieks, bullies and bosses Senex around and her powerful voice can be heard during "That Dirty Old Man" where she sings about wanting to wring her husband's neck while she still yearns for him. and she uses her slave, Hysterium as the object of her abuse while choking him, hitting him and smacking him below the belt. The high-strung slave Hysterium is terrifically played by Christopher Swan who is originally from Deep River, CT. His antics are hilarious as are his fainting spells and he gets to sing "I'm Calm'' while he is really a nervous wreck and "Lovely'' reprise which he sings clad in a white dress and blond wig while disguised as the virgin. Christopher and Jean-Pierre perform this duet together, leaving you in stitches at its absurdity. The smarmy procurer of flesh is hilariously played by Bruce Warren. He sells his beautiful courtesans in "The House of Marcus Lycus" and he gets to show off his powerful voice in the Maid quartet. His antics as a leper and as a lascivious whoremaster are wonderful, too. The befuddled Erronius who lost his children to pirates is well played by RI native, Harold Ashton. His various entrances with his lines "First time around", "Second time around" and ''Third time around" are laugh out loud moments. The pompous strutting Captain Miles Gloriosus is splendidly played by Zachary James. He knocks your socks off with his powerful rendition of "Bring Me My Bride" and the Funeral sequence. Zachary is terrifying in this role but gets to show off some comic moments throughout the evening with his fear of heights as one of them. (One of his cousins is MA native Gary Poholek who is currently playing Harold Hill in "The Music Man" in Taunton, MA.) The gorgeous courtesans who sing and dance up a storm are played by Lauren Sprance, Rachel Brown, Kendal Hartse, Rebecca MacDougall, Michelle Petrucci and Rachel Lomax. ( An added treat is the reopening of the Seahorse Grill run again by Duane and Carleen Crowe with its luscious menu intact.) So for a trip back to 2000 years ago, be sure to catch "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" in scenic Matunuck, RI at the historic landmark Theatre by the Sea. Hurry to buy your tickets before time runs out. Tell them Tony sent you. You'' be very glad you did.