The Porchlight Theater’s production of Stephen Sondheim‘s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum provides an evening of humor that theatergoers should expect from such a title.
This older musical, in several senses of the word, with a book by book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, music and lyrics by the renowned Sondheim, takes place in ancient Rome. Ultimately a love story which tries to connect Hero to the object of his adoration, Philia, the story takes many farcical turns on the way to their happy ending together.
Hero’s parents, Senex and Domina, stand in his way, along with his neighbor, Lycus, and his parents’ servant, Hysterium. The one person who wants to help Hero succeed from the beginning, however, is Hero’s own servant, Pseudolus, the narrator of the story, who is hoping to gain his own personal freedom. A more complete summary of the story and full history of the 1962 Tony-winning Best Musical may be read here.
At Porchlights, from the fabulous opening number “Comedy Tonight,” which expertly introduces all of the characters in a creative way, the audience becomes a part of the production with many characters breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the patrons.
The journey is led by Pseudolus, played by Bill Larkin, who carries this show in a persona similar to a young Mel Brooks. His outlandish facial expressions and exuberant dance moves add to the joyous spectacle on stage.
The hilarious “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” features Psuedolus along with Senex (Will Clinger) and, in subsequent reprises, Hysterium (Matt Crowle) and Lycus (Lorenzo Rush, Jr.). Each of these four men adds something different to the song, with Crowle more high-pitched and high-stepping and Rush much lower and more majestic. Brenda Didier’s choreography in this number particularly makes it stand out as the best in the show, along with its entertaining and sexually inappropriate message of why men all need to have maids around the house.
Sexual humor runs throughout this show, exemplified by the four courtesans living next door to Hero. These lovely ladies, played by Ariana Cappuccitti, Erica Evans, Britt-Marie Siversten and Neala Barron show off their impressively lithe bodies with tons of splits, kicks and what borders on strip teases, most specifically in the song “The House of Marcus Lycus.”
The heroine, Philia (Sarah Lynn Robinson), sings beautifully in her aptly titled song, “Lovely,” and in her duet with Hero, “Echo Song.” Due to her lack of education, Philia is not the smartest girl in town, but the audience still roots for her to end up with the man she loves. Hero (Miles Blim) also gives a wonderful performance, especially considering he is just a senior in high school.
Though the Stage 773 venue is smallish, with the orchestra split into the two balcony rows on either side of the house, the audience receives a large dose of comedy and fun with a slight surprise at the end. This show is well-worth the price of admission.
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” runs at Stage 773, 1225 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, through May 24. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 pm and 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $39 for Thursdays and $45 for all other performances. More information and tickets are available online here or by calling (773) 327-5252.