The Schuster Theatre’s spring musical, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” is all comedy. The opening number is a tribute to the energy that continues throughout the rest of the show.
The chorus is blatant about what to expect as the cast finishes with “tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight.”
The first thing the audience sees is a clothesline hanging from two houses, draped with frilly undergarments and a sheet bearing the show’s title. The rest of the stage is dedicated to three houses, an old man’s, a brothel and a wealthy Roman’s.
With a setting in ancient Rome, “Forum” takes advantage of the times with its character names. Pseudolus – Keefer Kopco – is best described as a pathological liar, as his “false” name implies. A threesome of men, the Proteans – Will Atonfack, Tom Barton and Zak Westfall – add comic relief by playing eunuchs and then incompetent soldiers throughout.
Senex, Pseudolus’ master, played by Stephen Haywiser, is hen-pecked by his wife Domina – Sarah Sgro. Their son Hero – Conor Grey – is the protagonist lover in the show. Their slave in chief Hysterium – Matt Kridel – has a hard time keeping his composure.
The owner of the brothel, Marcus Lycus – Michael Haas – takes his name from a mythological legend who was always at odds with the gods. The women who do business with him – played by Jade Mitchell, Lauren Loop, Leah Johnson and Alex Mihai, Kayla Scully and Lauren Chounet – fit some kinky stereotypes; one girl is especially into animalistic role play and two are twin lovers named after the constellation twins the Geminae.
Hero’s love interest, Philia – Natalie Pertz – is simply named “love.” The old man, Erronius – Michael Fujito – whose house is beside Senex’s, falsely believes his children were kidnapped by pirates.
The egotistical captain – Rob Lopez – who pays Marcus Lycus to take Philia as his wife is rightly named Miles Gloriosus.
The musical aspect of this production makes the archetype characters much more real. The solos are nearly entirely introspective.
Pseudolus dreams about his freedom but then comes to the realization that if he’s free, then “nothing is free.” Hero and Senex sing a duet wondering who Philia is truly attracted to, asking, “Why did she look at him that way?”
Philia explains how she is merely lovely by singing about it. Hysterium tells himself he’s calm in an ironic solo. Domina displays her insecurities about Senex with “That Dirty Old Man.”
Pseudolus isn’t the only one lying in the musical. As the show carries on, Hero, Senex, Hysterium, Marcus Lycus and even his women are in on massive dishonesty.
Pseudolus begins an exchange deal with Hero once his parents are gone. He will trade the money to buy Philia for his freedom. Lycus gives the women of his brothel an opportunity to display themselves in an impressive jazz dancing sequence, which added some character to the courtesans.
None of them are Hero’s Philia, however. Upon seeing Philia, they learn she has already been purchased by the general, Miles Gloriosus.
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” presents music, young love, the dangers of dishonesty and classic comedy. In his director’s notes, the Rev. Shawn Clerkin says, “These archetypes, along with jokes, some of which are 25,000 years old, still make us smile.”
It’s definitely a fun way to end Schuster’s season and the school year. It will play again Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.