Comedy tonight – a review of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”


By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant

Love is in the air on the streets of ancient Rome in Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart’s rollicking musical comedy, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” It’s something familiar. Something peculiar. Something for everyone. Comedy tonight!

A quick-witted but lazy slave, Pseudolus (Jimmy Kieffer), yearns to be free. His young master, Hero (Jamen Nanthakumar), will grant him his freedom on one condition: Pseudolus must help the youth discover the identity of his lady love and conspire to unite them. Unfortunately, the object of Hero’s affection, Philia (Mary Elizabeth Drake), is promised to another.

Ain’t that always the way?

The beautiful woman is a courtesan in the house of Marcus Lycus (Jeff Howell). Lycus cut a sweet deal and sold the beauty off for a handsome sum to a handsome warrior, Miles Gloriosus (Allan Snyder). A warrior with an ego so big – he makes Camelot’s Lancelot Du Lac look meek and mild in comparison. C’est moi!

Meanwhile, Hero’s parents, Senex (Stephen DeRosa), his father, and Domina (Ruth Gottschall), his mother, have scheduled a trip to the country. The parents leave their major domo and top slave, Hysterium (Gavan Pamer), in charge. Hysterium is sort of the Cameron Frye to Pseudolus’s Ferris Bueller. Pseudolus devises a complicated plan to get Hero and Philia together, and he’s lucky that Hero’s parents are away, because the plan involves Lycus and his phalanx of comely courtesans (Stephanie Maloney, Monica Woods, Brooke Lacy, Andrea Weinzierl, Jessica Walker and Elyse Collier).

The company of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Photo credit: Michael Henninger

There’s one more important plot point. Erronius (James FitzGerald) returns from his twenty-year absence seeking the whereabouts of his children, who, when babies, were stolen away by pirates. It seems like – -well – – erroneous information when it’s first presented, but, naturally, it becomes important in the final act.

The play follows in the style of commedia dell’ arte, and certain stock characters are bound to show up. We have a clever and witty protagonist, a greedy entrepreneur, young lovers and a lecherous old man or two thrown in for good measure. Shevelove and Gelbart come up with some hilarious situations for these stereotypical characters. Expect mistaken identity, ribald puns and plenty of slamming doors.

It all takes place in front of three lavish Roman homes. The actors are adorned in beautiful, bright clothing by Martha Bromelmeier and dance around the faux marble stage designed by James Noone.

Director Ted Pappas cast the play with top-notch actors.

Kieffer is fantastic as the scheming slave. He is a charismatic lead. While it’s an strenuous performance, he looks like he’s having a ball. His enthusiasm is infectious.

Pamer is a perfect foil. He is relishing his role as well.

There are fine performances from Howell, Drake and Snyder. Gottschall is divine as the shrewish mother, Domina.

FitzGerald is another stand out. He had the audience rolling in the aisle, just by strutting across the stage.

While all the courtesans were extremely beautiful, Monica Woods may be the most alluring woman on stage.

There were three clowns (called Proteans here), that were a little too clownish. In fairness, clowns should be clownish, but they were wildly over-the-top.

Also, some of the action is punctuated with sound effects straight from a Warner Brothers cartoon. It was if the climax was choreographed by Wyle E. Coyote. My biggest note to the director would be to skip the slide whistle and grating cacophony and just let these marvelous actors do their thing. It’s a small gripe in a wonderfully hilarious evening.

It’s just a bit of silly fun, really, but, honestly, don’t we all need some more silliness in our lives?

– MB

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” runs until February 25 at the O’Reilly Theatre, 621 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.  For more information, go here.

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