Stephen Sondheim, Burt Shevelove, and Larry Gelbart’s classic musical, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM is now at the Walnut Street Theatre in a new production is directed by Frank Ferrante.
Ferrante also plays Pseudolus, the character most responsible for mayhem as he seeks freedom from his master, freedom if only he can get his young master the girl of his dreams. That is the plot in a nutshell, but it doesn’t do justice to the absolute silliness and genuine fun of this musical classic.
The Walnut has assembled a dream cast for this production of A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM: Frank Ferrante, who was so good in Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor, appears to thrive in plays with absurdly long titles. Aiding and abetting Ferrante/Pseudolus is the estimable comedian Scott Greer as Hysterium. What makes this even funnier is Hysterium is usually played by a slight, neurasthenic actor. Scott Greer is a big bear of a man. Philadelphia legend Mary Martello is Domina, and as her husband, Senex, we have the consummate character actor Ron Wisniski. The Domina-Hysterium duet is a comedic highpoint of the show displaying Martello’s and Greer’s superb theatrical smarts and comic timing. The zany chase scene in Act II is the finest, funniest thing to be seen in Philadelphia so far this season.
One of the wonderful touches in this production is Billy D. Hart’s S&M courtesan, Gymnasia. At first some in the audience asked, “Is that a guy?” which was quickly answered with “No … Wait. I think it is.” Not only did Hart look fabulous in his costume, but he may have worn the highest heels among the courtesans. Bravo, Gymnasia!
The other outstanding cast members were the three Proteans (Ben Dibble, Jennie Eisenhower, and Dave Jadico), Hero (Brandon O’Rourke), Alanna J. Smith (as Philia, perhaps the only virgin in Rome), Fran Prisco (Lycus), Bill Van Horn (Erronius), Nichalas L. Parker (Miles Gloriosus).
The orchestra was outstanding. John Daniels led his ten musicians from the keyboard. They sounded Olympian. The creative team for this production included Costumes by Mary Folino, Lighting by Paul Black, and Robert Andrew Kovach who created the scenic design which made ancient Rome look like a zany Toon Town off the Las Vegas strip.
[Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia]; September 5-October 22, 2017; walnutstreettheatre.org