A Funny Think Happened on the Way to the Forum is, in my mind, close to the perfect musical comedy.
The memorable music, the wordplay of Stephen Sondheim's lyrics, and the goofy slapstick plot by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H, Tootsie) sustain the audience on all sorts of levels.
Central to the success of the show is the character of Pseudolus, a slave in ancient Rome. A troupe that finds a good Pseudolus has set itself up for success.
In Don Weber, the Village Players has a delightful Pseudolus for their production that runs through May 19.
Weber, who played the same role in the Players' 1983 production of Forum, has a keen sense of comic timing and a loose-limbed stature that helps him to convey surprise, glee, and other emotions, all while maintaining a straight face (which, truth be told, isn't stoic all that often).
Pseudolus is owned by Hero, the only son of the aptly named Domina and her henpecked husband, Senex.
Desperate to win his freedom, Pseudolus discovers that his young master has his eye on a girl who lives next door. Unfortunately, next door is the home of Marcus Lycus, who trades in beautiful women.
Gasp. The lad has fallen in love with a courtesan.
Not really. It turns out that Lycus has procured the virgin Philia for Gen. Miles Gloriosus to wed, and she is the one with whom Hero has fallen in love.
Pseudolus cuts a deal with Hero. If he can arrange it so Hero wins the hand of Philia, he will be granted his freedom. It won't be east; neither Hero nor Pseudolus has the money to purchase Philia, so they must resort to guile.
Surrounded by a mix of Village Players veterans and newcomers, Weber is the strongest member of the Forum cast, but no one is so weak that he or she damages the play.
Mostly, the weaknesses translate to humor.
For example, Jean Mills, who plays the shrewish Domina, falters when it comes to singing some high notes, but in the context a song of lust, the breaking voice is funny.
Her spouse is played by Rick Hagg, who generally can be found behind the scenes as a director (Brenda Sweeney helms Forum, and a fine job she does). He gives Weber his stiffest competition for laughs.
Young Hero, played by Andy Striph, a Sylvania Southview student, is also a fairly ordinary singer, but he has the innocent charm department all sewn up, especially in his scenes with Philia, played by Sarah Braun, who has the best set of pipes on the stage.
Actually, the entire production is long on charm, and in a funny way, the amateur cast is the cause.
Take the Proteans. These three fellows are jacks of all trades, portraying everyone from slaves to soldiers to citizens, wherever an extra body is called for.
When I saw Forum on Broadway, the Proteans were played by gymnasts, whose contortions were not to be believed.
In the Village Players' productions, they are played by Daniel Aikens, a student at the Performing Arts School of Metropolitan Toledo; Rick Chesko, a retired project manager at Davis Besse, and 21-year-old Brandon Ware. I submit that because they are amateurs, they are actually funnier. As soldiers, their helmets slip this way and that. As slaves, their exaggerated movements show us how overworked they are.
Their very lack of skill is part of the considerable fun. Forum is that kind of play.
Other strong performances come from Brian Wiesenburger as Domina's groveling chief slave, Hysterium, and opera singer Jim Latimer as Miles Gloriosus.
Forum is a delight. It's the kind of show you can see over and over again, and the Village Players production is a fine place to start.
"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" continues through May 19 at the Village Players Theatre, 2740 Upton Ave. Performances are 8 tonight, 2 p.m. tomorrow, and 8 p.m. May 10-12 and 17-19. Tickets are $16 for adults and $14 for seniors and students. Information: 419-472-6817.
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