By Dee Jae Cox
There are multiple classic Broadway musicals that should be seen in Revival. Gypsy, West Side Story, Peter Pan, My Fair Lady and the Sound of Music just to name a few. But some shows, really are better off being left to bygone eras. “A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to The Forum,” originally produced in 1962, is one of those shows. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, the play is said to be inspired by the farces of ancient Roman playwrights, and maybe ancient Rome is where it was most appreciated.
The time is ancient Rome and it is the story of a slave named Pseudolus, beautifully performed by Rob Weidert, who wants his freedom so badly that he is willing to go to any length to gain it. Neighbors living in three houses all in a row, weave together an absurd comedy of errors. The house of Senex is where our young upstanding hero, creatively named ‘Hero’ (played by Nicholas Sloan) lives, next door to a brothel (of course) where he falls in love with the lovely Philia, one of the courtesans in the brothel. Philia, though a courtesan, is still a virgin (every brothel has to have at least one) who has just been sold to the comically, ego driven Roman General, Miles Gloriosus, Gallantly performed by Stephen Blackwell. Pseudolus will win his freedom if only he can manage to get Hero and Philia together.
I thoroughly enjoyed Weidert’s take on the character of Pseudolus. He almost saved this play from the antique shop where it belongs. He was farcical and funny without falling off of the edge of absurdity. I did find myself smiling when he entered the scene. Jamie Leigh Walker, as Philia, previously seen in the Palm Canyon Theatre’s production of ‘Cinderella’ was as remarkable as ever in this show, with a singing voice that was flawless and a definite highlight of the presentation. It takes talent for an obviously skilled actress to play a stereotypical airheaded virgin courtesan. Personally I find sexist stereotypes about as funny as racist stereotypes.
Garnett Smith as Erronius, proved the adage that there are no small roles, only small actors. Any time he entered the stage, he stole the scene. He was really funny. Not the slapstick, pie in the face funny, but the talented actor who knows how to skillfully deliver a line, funny. Just loved him. And the three young Proteans, Jackson Dean, Holden Hartle and Jake Mule must be applauded for their abilities to quick change from a ‘Eunuch’ to a Roman soldier in the blink of an eye. A male actor in drag, in the role of Gymnasia, the ‘athletic’ Courtesan was a fun choice. Ben Reece was sexy in a dominatrix kind of way.
Peter Mins’ costumes were creative, a step beyond the expected togas. And I truly appreciated J.W. Layne’s simple set and lighting designs. But none of the production elements are enough to make this play a ‘must see’ unless you really love outdated farce.
The Palm Canyon Theatre is a class act. I have loved so much of their work and I can’t wait to see what they do next. But “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” wasn’t one of their better production choices.
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is being performed through March 8th, at the Palm Canyon Theatre, located at 538 North Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs.
For Reservations: Box Office: 760.323.5123 – www.palmcanyontheatre.org
Dee Jae Cox, is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director for The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project and the host of KPTR 1450’s hit radio show, “California Woman 411” in Palm Springs.