There’s nothing out of the ordinary, let alone funny, about falling in love with the girl next door. Unless, that is, said girl lives in a house of ill repute and has been sold to an army captain who’s about to come claim her.
Ah, the joys of ancient Rome.
Lucky for Hero, the young man who’s fallen for the virgin Philia, there is help in sight. Hero’s conniving slave, Pseudolus, has all the answers: he’ll outsmart the courtesan dealer and steal Philia for Hero; the two young lovers will sail away under cover of night; and Pseudolus the Clever will be granted his freedom.
Chris Brand (Hero), Whitney Winfield (Philia), and Ken Jennings (Pseudolus)
A convoluted plot, to be sure, but herein lies the charm of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the opening production of The Wick Theatre and Costume Museum‘s third season (on stage through November 1). The Stephen Sondheim-scored musical has been around since its debut on Broadway in the early 1960s, and it’s just as hilarious today. The Wick’s version stars Broadway veteran Ken Jennings as Pseudolus, with notable performances by Michael Ursua as Hysterium and Whitney Winfield as Philia.
From the opening number, “Comedy Tonight,” to its reprise at the end, Jennings delivers an energy-packed performance as the lovable, scheming slave. And that’s something, considering the play is a whirlwind of song, dance, innuendo, slapstick comedy, and uproarious pandemonium. A high note is the duet “Lovely” by Pseudolus and Hysterium, who is disguised as the dead virgin to trick Philia’s groom-to-be, Miles Gloriosus, played by Jim Ballard. It’s one of many reasons to laugh out loud.
Jim Ballard (Miles Gloriosus, center) with the courtesans of the House of Lycus and the three Proteans.
Ursua, the resident musical director of The Wick, is funny at every turn as the hysterical head slave. His Hysterium is at once dutiful and frantic, trying at all costs to maintain order amid the chaos. Winfield’s Philia is charming as the ditzy Cretan virgin who captured Hero’s heart. The lyrics of her solo, “That’ll Show Him,” say it all: “When I kiss him/I’ll be kissing you/So I’ll kiss him morning and night/That’ll show him!”
There are many versions of Forum (I’ve personally seen about a half-dozen), and each is reliant on both the individual energy of and the chemistry among the actors. This one works on every level.