It’s always kind of a thrill to see what Fighting Chance Productions will pull out of their bag next. This ambitious little theatre company (not so little, really, with nearly 20 in this cast alone) seems to bring so much energy and invigorating young talent to each of its performances. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is no different — the performance is a musical comedy that pulls out all the stops in delighting the audience.
Here’s some background on the play itself: Forum (the book) was written by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The musical was inspired by the farces of ancient Roman playwright Plautus, who wrote some of the earliest surviving works of Latin literature (fast facts – courtesy Sage Wiki).
That would explain the the abundance of classic comic devices that the Forum uses so dexterously. For anyone wanting to see cases of mistaken identity and mad coincidence seamlessly taken to comical extremes, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is the play for you.
The actors’ exuberance in the cozy Jericho Arts Centre is really palpable, especially during the Forum‘s first feel-good little number, where all the actors, in a whirlwind of song and dance, directly address the audience promising “Something for Everyone . . . Comedy Tonight!”. The song and the actors transparently and eagerly declare that the Forum is meant to make you laugh (I am not ashamed to say I chortled). I say this performance is heartwarming because the way the cast looks right into the audience’s eyes as they perform this song, with big, warm smiles on their faces — their desire to entertain and make us laugh is so genuine, you can see that it comes from way under their makeup, makeshift ancient Roman wear and glittering false eyelashes.
I love how the character’s names reflect their personalities too — I read somewhere this is also a feature of classical comedy. “Pseudolus” (played by Ryan Mooney) is a loveable scoundrel who can weave fabulous lies to talk himself out of any situation — a talent he uses to try and buy his freedom by arranging a love affair with his master and the girl next door; while “Hysterium” (played by Mike Wild) is a bundle of nerves who grows more and more neurotic as the events of the play threaten to blow his cover. A personal favourite name/character of mine in this play is “Miles Gloriousus” – captain, conqueror, bride-buyer, narcissist (played by Matt Ramer). I could learn a few moves from the names of the courtesans (and the talented courtesans themselves): in the above picture, (left to right) are Gymnasia (played by Ranae Miller), Vibrata (played by Kiki Lipsett), Titinabula (played by Sable Strub), the Geminae (played by Rebecca Friesen and Jennifer Kuhl) and Panacea (played by Brittany Cairns).
The Jericho Arts Centre is perfectly small for this spirited play: much of the humour comes from the characters’ confiding in or addressing the audience like an old friend, involving them in the story — I particularly love this kind of theatre.
I recently learned that the cast throws in funny one-liners that weren’t in the script, as some friends that went after opening night notified me of new jokes in the play that I hadn’t seen. While I feel a little jealous having missed these, that also explains why the humour in the play comes across as spontaneous, and is all the more hysterical for it.
Without further spoilers, you can see Fighting Chance Productions’ A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at the Jericho Arts Centre until October 22nd. Shows are at 8 p.m. from Tuesday through Saturday, with matinees at 2 p.m on Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Bravo to the cast, crew, and band for all their hard work in putting together this play. And a big congratulations to Cathy Wilmot for directing this wonderful show!