A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a musical theater institution. And one of our oldest Charleston institutions, the Footlight Players, is bringing it to us, uncut and uncensored. Well, as much as the venerable 1962 Broadway classic can be called uncut and uncensored. That was an exaggeration. But the show is pretty damn funny, scoring soundly with the near-full house at Friday's opening night.
Great actors like Zero Mostel, Nathan Lane, and Whoopi Goldberg have played the lead role of Pseudolus. Here at Footlight, the mischievous slave to the house of Senex is played by Joshua Bates (Messiah on the Frigidaire). Pseudolus wants freedom more than anything. His master, Hero (CofC student Baker C. Powell) wants more than anything the hand of the young courtesan Philia (Charleston newcomer and sweet siren Beth Jones). So Pseudolus puts into motion a series of hilarious mixups to bring Hero and Philia together, thus earning him the freedom he longs and even sings for.
Complications arise, of course, because this is a musical comedy. The girl is a courtesan in the house of Marcus Lycus (Hal H. Truesdale in excellent form), and she's already promised to a general. Add to that the slave-in-chief Hysterium (Ross Magoulas), who's in charge of keeping young Hero away from the opposite sex, and the general (Kyle Magley, all pomp and pretension) on his way to claim his bride. What to do? Trust me, these are all funny things.
The cast is hilarious. It's hard to pick a standout performance here. Bates has an incredible chemistry with the entire cast, and his facial expressions are a delight. He's not a powerhouse singer like some of the aforementioned, but he's got a firm grasp on both the character and the comedic styling. Jones brings a sincere honesty to the idiotic innocence of Philia. If you have to pick, look to Magoulas as Hysterium. He'll have you splitting your sides each and every time he's on stage. He and Bates singing the reprise of "Lovely" is exactly that. Maybe it's not as hard as I thought.
This is a solid stage musical with a solid singing cast. Musical director Marsha Goldsmith has done a good job here. The numbers are sung well, and the music never overpowers the voices of the performers. It's good to see a musical in town without the normal sound issues dragging down the proceedings. That's not to say a few actors didn't drop too low in their registers (Magoulas, brilliant as he is, can sometimes be inaudible).
The choreography by Jon-Michael Perry is less impressive, with most of the numbers involving the cast merely standing there. A little variety would have been nice, and there's room for at least one big choreography number. Still, the songs are catchy and the actors stand there well enough, so it doesn't ruin the proceedings. Kathy Summer, as the frightening mistress of House Senex, nails all but a few notes in one of the best-performed pieces of the night; hopefully she can keep it up for the rest of the three-week run.
The set is huge, and director Don Brandenburg puts it to work. Three multi-leveled houses with numerous entrances and exits are all utilized frequently and for sharp comedic effect. Some of the timing was off in the chase finale, so they might want to work out those kinks. Erica Rowley's costume design is on period and quite colorful. My applause to the band as well. They tend to get forgotten in the heaping of praise. Well struck, players.
The Footlight faithful will already have their tickets to Forum. Whether you know the show or are new to it, maybe you should join them.