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Theatre Review: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Barry Wisdom
 

Barry Wisdom

Musical comedy is one thing, but this show – which has been staged locally by a number of companies over the years -- is more of musical farce. And farce is fueled by improbable events and winking innuendo.

This show lays out its jaunty agenda right away – you are in for a lively, slightly bawdy tale. And since this show is set ancient times, it’s spiced with Roman decadence – including seven scantily clad female slaves who are quite literally available for purchase. They do a dance for a prospective customer that’s not exactly something you’d find in “Mary Poppins.”

Don’t get me wrong, the suggestive elements in this show are pretty mild compared to what you’ll find in the movies these day. And some lyrics are delightfully antique, like the song in which four men rhapsodize about the ideal female domestic.

(Cast) “A maid, a maid, a maid! Everybody ought to have a maid. Someone who’s efficient and reliable. Obiedient, and pliable. And quieter than a mouse…”

My my, how attitudes have changed. Nowadays, many Broadway shows feature feisty, independent women who ultimately get what they want. But the factors that have always made a good farce click – like overblown human vanity, and overconfident attempts at seduction – are essentially the same as they were 50 or 250 years ago. And since “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” really IS a farce, it holds up better on stage now than many of the more conventional musical comedies from the ‘60s.

This STC production also benefits from an antic, over-the-top performance in the central role by local professional Michael RJ Campbell. He is supported by a large and energetic cast, with plenty of ridiculous costumes and nicely-choreographed disasters. The finale, with the entire cast running every which way, is a beautifully executed trainwreck that got me giggling, even though I knew it was coming.

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