Need a good laugh? Do yourself a favor and check out the Dayton Playhouse’s highly entertaining production of composer Stephen Sondheim and librettists Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart’s 1962 Tony Award-winning musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
A charmingly witty romp set in ancient Rome and adapted from the Roman comedies of Plautus, “Forum” centers on the madcap mayhem surrounding Pseudolus, a slave whose only chance at freedom rests with his ability to ensure his dim-witted master Hero falls in love with Philia, the genial virgin next door. It’s a tough assignment considering Philia is promised to a powerful warrior, but Pseudolus shrewdly steps up the plate relying on nothing more than a great deal of mischief and pure luck.
Director Jim Lockwood, always adept at comedy, fashions a breezy showcase strictly intended to produce a good time. His lively cast embraces the material with a fun-loving rapport that doesn’t feel calculated or forced. The jokes are a hoot because the laughs are earned beyond the script, similar to the impromptu intuitiveness of a sketch comedy troupe. The cast, winningly handling Sondheim’s tunefully tricky score and nicely costumed by Jennie Hawley, are also in sync with each other, heightening the humor particularly when an actor reacts to another actor’s silly glance or gesture.
Brad Mattingly, a terrific vocalist who would be an inspired choice to portray Sweeney Todd, impressively captures the frenzy, perplexity and persuasiveness within Pseudolus, a role that can be very exasperating and showy in less capable hands. Mattingly’s engaging spirit and sharp comedic timing serves him well as Pseudolus skillfully orchestrates the hilarious madness, which involves mistaken identity, a body snatcher and mare’s sweat. As Hero, Matthew Glenn relies too heavily on his character’s bashful innocence, resulting in a one-dimensional portrayal that goes nowhere. Still, he is physically right for the role and well-matched with the sweetly sensitive Mary Mykytka as Philia. Saul Caplan, embodying Hero’s beleaguered father Senex once more, has the audience under his spell thanks to the impeccable delivery of his one-liners. Soprano Claire Hurley’s delightfully domineering portrayal of Domina, Senex’s wife, is highlighted by her excellently lyric-driven rendition of “That Dirty Old Man.” Brad Bishop has a ball as the frantic and devoted servant Hysterium. Richard Young effortlessly supplies one of his most scene-stealing performances as the hopelessly befuddled Erronius. Jamie McQuinn keeps the comedy at fever-pitch as smarmy courtesan owner Marcus Lycus. As mighty Miles Gloriosus, the perfectly cast Jeff Sams is a brooding, goofy, intimidating and towering presence. Sarah Jordan (Tintinabula), Tamar Fishbein (Panacea), Rikki Overman (Geminae), Kali Jordan-DeBruin (Geminae), Krista Stuber (Vibrata) and Marabeth Klejna (Gymnasia) comprise the appealing courtesans. Naman Clark, Suzanne Clabaugh and Malcolm Casey are an efficiently adaptable trio of proteans.
Additionally, Sandra Hyde supplies playful choreography, especially for the amusing opener “Comedy Tonight” and the Frank Loesser-esque “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid.” Musical director Ron Kindell leads another solid orchestra.
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” continues through June 16 at the Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Act One: 80 minutes; Act Two: 40 minutes. Tickets are $17 for adults and $15 for students and seniors. For tickets or more information, call (937) 424-8477 or visit www.daytonplayhouse.com