Hijinks abound in the witty, irreverent, farcical hit musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. A world first, all-female identifying cast of 10 give voice to a comedy that has its roots in Roman times. It is feel good material, with plenty of laughs along the way.
Pseudolus (Charmaine Gorman) is a wily slave, desperate to win his freedom. He hatches a plan with Hero (Milo Hartill), the smitten son of Senex (Cathy Woodhouse) and his wife Domina (Sophie Weiss), to achieve his goal. Hero is besotted by a new girl he has seen next door – a house of ill repute run by Marcus Lycus (Sarahlouise Younger). The prostitute Hero has his eyes on is a virgin who lacks smarts, Philia (Mel O’Brien).
The problem is that the brothel owner has already secured a lucrative financial deal for Philia with a Roman army captain, Miles Gloriosus (Luisa Scrofani). In fact, the pompous military man is on his way to collect her. So, with time on the hop, Pseudolus has to think quickly to prize Philia away from Marcus Lycus and into Hero’s arms for long enough for Hero and Philia to hit it off. He comes up with the notion of a plague on Crete, where Philia came from, and the prospect of isolating Philia in Hero’s house, while Hero’s parents are away.
It is from here that musical takes off, with mistaken identity an effective tool used liberally in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. With book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, it is easy to see why the show claimed six Tony Awards.
After a somewhat awkward start, which lacked polish, the players managed to right the ship and ensured we – the audience – stayed on board. More than 60 years on, the material continues to delight and the enthusiastic and willing troupe hams it up beautifully.
Charmaine Gorman is bright and breezy in the lead, setting the tone for the organised chaos that ensues. Milo Hartill’s mellifluous vocals and comic sensibilities stand out as the young man captivated by Philia. Jacqueline Hoy is suitably harried as the chief slave in the House of Senex. Cathy Woodhouse assumes an excitable glow as Senex when he thinks Philia has made moves on him. Sophie Weiss is domineering and suspicious as Senex’s wife Domina.
Sarahlouise Younger brings a strong presence to astute wheeler and dealer Marcus Lycus. Mel O’Brien’s affectations as Philia are priceless. Luisa Scrofani excels as the entitled Miles Gloriosus and, earlier, as a scowling eunuch employed by Marcus Lycus. Kristie Nguy assumes several guises of servitude and does so with warmth and hilarity. Judith Roberts bring ditz to her persona, that of old man Erronius searching for his long-lost children that were stolen in infancy by pirates.
By and large, the vocalisation is strong, the chorus numbers particularly melodic. Jemima Johnston’s costuming has bold and bawdy elements to it, while the set (the designer is Sarah Tulloch) is suitably Romanesque. There is a surfeit of columns, statues, headless torsos and busts lying around. Director Melanie Hillman and musical director Trevor Jones have given us a fun-filled, smile inducing night of entertainment.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is playing at Chapel Off Chapel until 24th September, 2023.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Garfield: The Musical with Cattitude – theatre review
- Gilligan’s Island: The Musical (Chapel off Chapel) – theatre review
- Huckleberry (Chapel off Chapel) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.