The Williams Lake Studio Theatre’s latest offering will have audience members laughing in their seats.
From the beginning of the production, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which opens Wednesday, Jan. 15, it is clear the audience is not meant to take any part of this comedy musical too seriously as it opens with a solid two to four minutes of madcap piano playing before the curtain rises.
When it does, we are introduced to our players and our main character, the slave Pseudolus, who assures us that we are in for a happy ending, as the tragedy is showing tomorrow.
What follows is a madcap absurd tale that winds its way through the streets of ancient Rome pulling all manner of citizens, soldiers, pirates, a procurer of women, concubines and slaves into its wake that twists and turns in predictable but endearing ways. Like any good musical the plot is simplistic, easy to follow and grand involving love, quick thinking and action.
In essence Pseudolus, a wise-cracking clever slave of the house of Senex, wishes to earn his freedom by coin, guile or whatever means necessary, much to the dismay of his young owner, the son of Senex, Hero. However, when Hero falls hopelessly in love with the lovely Philia, a virgin concubine in the house of Marcus Lycus, the local procurer of women, Pseudolus seizes his chance to earn his freedom by conspiring to bring the two together. Talking the talk and walking the walk are two very different things Pseudolus quickly discovers as his plans spin hopelessly out of control and suck everyone around him into a farcical caper that could very well end in his death… or freedom if he rolls his dice right.
Upon lights first rising the beauty of the set jumps out at you in all its colourful, detailed and intricate glory. Jeff Rankin masterfully designed and built a versatile and unique set that perfectly matches the energy and feel of A Funny Thing giving the actors plenty to play with and off of as they choose.
Likewise, Christa Obergfell’s costumes perfectly complement both the set and their respective characters. They are at times cartoonish caricatures of Roman dress, perfect for the cast of hilarious caricatures of Ancient Romans, each enhancing the personality of those on stage. The makeup, done by Tanis Armstrong and Eileen Alberton, combined with the hair and wigs created by Stacey Poirier and Debra Sprague only serve to further enhance this effect and are masterfully done.
The actors that fill these costume and roles meanwhile are a diverse bunch of 17 of th e lakecity’s finest thespians, young and old, who have all pulled together over the last few months to put on a fantastic show. It should be noted, however, that an unfortunate bout of pneumonia did mean one of the actors had to fill in for another just two weeks before the opening, so there are still some rough patches from time to time.
Pseudolus, our lead, is played fantastically by Matt Granlund whose performances anchors the entire show and drives the plot forward. Granlund brings a good sense of comedic timing and a world-weary deadpan vibe that hides a sharp wit, though not as sharp as his character clearly thinks it is.
Gabriel Zamorano’s Hero and Niamae Benson’s Philia, meanwhile, provide a well-acted classic, if corny, ‘love at first sight’ relationship that brings a pure and wholesome energy to the production. Zamorano is energetic, boyish and naive while Benson is playful, flirtatious and ditzy, both of them doing a great job of playing the archetype of a dumb blonde.
Hero’s parents, meanwhile, are a comedic goldmine and provide a complete contrast to their son’s lovestruck and hopeful infatuation. Dominia, played exquisitely by Mimi Searls, is a delight to watch on stage as she shrilly and forcefully bullies all in her path into submission to the point where they jump at the mere mention of her name. Her husband Senex, brought to quivering life by Harry Jennings, is everything she is not indecisive, cowardly, possibly senile and an old windbag fond of making noise for noise’s sake.
Pseudolus’ foil meanwhile comes in the form of the ‘perfectly calm’ head slave Hysterium played by the hyper expressive and energetic Kathleen MacDonald, who expertly mixes self-importance with grovelling, playing off her fellow actors handily. Tony Saville’s Erronius, meanwhile, is a delight every time he hobbles across the stage playing a befuddled old man caught up in the drama unfolding around him. Sean Smith, meanwhile, brings a forceful and physical performance in the form of the great Miles Gloriosus, a Roman captain who demands attention as he strides across the stage with a persistent glower.
No play would be complete without a villain and the closest we come to that is the greedy, unscrupulous and slimy Marcus Lycus, Curt Sprickerhoff, owner of the local house of courtesans who turns in a delightfully wicked and bombastic performance. His courtesans meanwhile include the cacophonous Tintinabula, Sheryl-Lynn Lewis, the lovely Panacea, Drinda Huston, the mesmerizing The Geminae, Linda Dubeau and Majorie Jalbert, and the intimidating Gymnasia, Alison Turnbull. Each actress plays their one-note characters to perfection and function well as an eclectic chorus.
It would be remiss, however, not to mention the true chorus of the production, The Proteans, who play a dozen roles with wit, gusto and great energy, knitting the play together with their slap-stick three stooges like routine. It’s clear that Megan Monds, Travis Reynolds and Jennica Walker delight in their roles as they scamper across the stage and add an extra level of absurdity to the proceedings.
Singing wise, as with any musical, it ranges across the board with each actor giving it their all and pouring their hearts into their performances. However, some do stand above their peers with exceptionally well-performed pieces of music that leave the audience breaking out into applause.
One is Jennings’ Senex, who performs two of the play’s most comedic and jaunty numbers Everybody Ought to Have a Maid and Impossible which showcases his bumbling senile character’s hilarious eccentricities and insecurities brilliantly. Granlund and Zamorano, meanwhile, turned in solid performances in both the opening number, their solo songs and several others in supporting roles adding a real backbone to the performances of others.
Musically, however, the show is stolen by Benson who proved to have a clear, powerful and frankly beautiful voice that hit high notes with ease. Her performance of Lovely and That’ll Show Him are a true delight to listen to and are almost worth the price of admission alone.
Technically, the performance was sound with effective lighting, well-timed sound cues and a soundtrack kept at just the right volume for the musical performances. Conlan Sprickerhoff on sound and Marina Campsall on lights clearly know their business and missed no visible cues, even syncing both sound and light to the actors’ movements at times.
All taken together, director Sandi Alaric and her cast and crew have created a musical that is a hilarity inducing delight to watch that is well worth going out to see. While there are still some elements to be ironed out these do not subtract from the overall experience which is, in its essence, entertaining in every sense of the word.
A Funny Thing runs from Jan. 15 to Jan. 18, Jan 22. to Jan. 25, Jan. 29 to Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 with a matinée on Jan. 26. Tickets are currently priced at $15 for the first two nights, while from Jan. 17 on they are $20. There will also be a wine and cheese night on Jan. 24 for $35 where audiences will be treated to libations and food at intermission. Tickets are on sale now online, at The Open Book and at Kit and Kaboodle.