Friday, October 9, 2015

The Wick Theatre: A Funny Thing Happened… (reviews)

WICK forum logoThe Wick Theatre opened its production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum on October 1, 2015.
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum is a non-stop laugh-fest in which Pseudolus, a crafty slave, struggles to win the hand of a beautiful but slow-witted courtesan named Philia, for his young master, Hero, in exchange for freedom. The plot twists and turns with cases of mistaken identity, slamming doors, and a showgirl or two.
Bob Walton directed a cast that included Ken Jennings, Michael Ursua, Christopher Brand, Michael Scott, Erika Amato, Whitney Winfield, Jim Ballard, David Setteducati, and Troy Stanley.
Michelle F. Solomon wrote for Florida Theater On Stage:
What may have made this production of Forum more than a dated relic would have been to heighten the farce and hit the funny bone with not just a wink to burlesque and vaudeville. Book writers Burt Shevelove and Larry (M*A*S*H) Gelbart intended an eye-popping nod to the wacky, baggy-pants entertainment of yesteryear.
Director Bob Walton misses the mark. While he has his actors go for laughs, what’s missing is the Three Stooges, Marx Brothers-esque outrageousness. This Forum lacks the sock-‘it-to-’em that it needs to create the necessary ridiculousness that would pardon its sexism. Meanwhile, the pacing is off as the production’s musical numbers serve as scene segues rather than their necessary function, which is to keep piling on more and more of the madcap zaniness.
The cast hangs together well as an ensemble with Jennings as Pseudolus, who is also the wacky narrator of the play, leading the charge. The seasoned actor – Jennings was the original Tobias in Sweeney Todd on Broadway − has a bit of fun tossing in ad libs here and there. When a bit of stage business gave him trouble (Pseudolus is supposed to pull a book of potions from Hysterium’s trousers and the book wouldn’t budge) at Sunday’s matinee, Jennings broke the fourth wall and let the audience in on the mishap, turning it into an in-character gag.
Ballard did the same with an appropriate ad lib when an audience member shouted out the final word of a line of dialogue. Rather than ignore it, he acknowledged it, creating a comedic moment. Ballard effectively hams it up as the vain Gloriosus, especially in his showstopping Bring Me My Bride, which hit a high note as the Act One closer.
Scott as Senex plays the role of the old man readying himself for the virgin with befuddled charm. Amato as Domina makes the most of her brief scenes and her lively Act Two song opener, That Dirty Old Man, has kick.
Setteducati plays Lycus with a deliberately devious bent. Ursua as Hysterium is fittingly high strung, but misses more than a few moments where he could steal the spotlight away from Pseudolus. Brand plays Hero a bit too understated, never really convincing that he’s hellbent on being married to Philia. His delicate rendering of Love, I Hear, however, is endearing. Winfield as the virgin has the difficult task in bringing to life a character that is given little dimension, but she imbues Philia with a mercurial temperament that at least offers some depth. Stanley’s interruptive shuffle as Erronious gets a laugh every time.
The Wick fills a musical theater void that was missing in Palm Beach County and it knows what will get ticket buyers to become season ticket holders – familiar musicals. This Forum will entertain the masses, but more verve and vaudeville is needed to get this toga party started.
Leslie Gay Streeter reviewed wrote for The Palm Beach Post:
Though the entire show is built on a Vaudevillian broadness, with Pseudolus as the ringmaster, Jennings manages to sell the slave’s genuine yearning to be a Roman citizen. The way the actor half-whispers the title of the song “Free,” Pseudolus’s duet with Hero that seals their deal, as if the very word is a shining promise, gives a little shiver, right before we’re onto the next gag.
And those gags come fast and furious, enabled by a physically and musically adroit cast, notably Amato, who makes the thankless role of undesired wife a winning one, the angel-voiced and twinkling Winfield, and Michael Ursua, who brings a straight man’s virtuosity to the role of Psuedolus’ much more reliable co-slave Hysterium, who’s hiding a kink or two under his ordered exterior.
Having been revived several times since its 1962 Broadway debut, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a proud throwback that, thanks to director Bob Walton, never seems outdated or a mere amusing museum piece, mostly because it is, as its title promise, a funny thing.
Rod Stafford Hagwood wrote for The Sun-Sentinel:
Fifty-three years after its Broadway debut, maybe it's time to adjust the title of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum ...  Perhaps now we should call the Stephen Sondheim musical A Funny-ish Thing Happened… etc.  Setting aside the sexism played as a running gag (but not in an ironic way, which would take the wince factor out of it), there's also the dusty-fusty feel of the vaudevillian script. What was bawdy hijinks then reads as boorish behavior now. Context is everything.
If there is any cast who could pull off plopping down this chestnut in 2015, it's the one the Wick has assembled. They look like a million dollars, or gold coins as the case may be, in their candy-coated costumes that look as if they're straight out of the 1966 movie version… They sing well enough to push out of your head, if not forget altogether, the fact that the music is canned. They dance Angela Morando-Taylor's choreography with real panache. And the show's star, Broadway performer Ken Jennings ("Sweeney Todd," "Grand Hotel," "Side Show," "Urinetown the Musical"), has a real feel for the slapstick.
It is a handsome production. But something is amiss. Maybe it's that the farce feels forced, or the Borsht Belt is too loose. Jennings is a little Mel Brooks-ian dynamo, gamely trying to inject vim and vigor into the script. Ballard makes the most of his role while Winfield has a lovely way of caressing a lyric. Director Bob Walton has even slipped in a few pop culture references, including Viagra and Pope Francis.
It should work. It almost does. Being funny for two hours with a 15-minute intermission is a tall order. Maybe we'll have to settle for funny-ish.
Roger Martin reviewed for Miami ArtZine:
If you're a lover of musical comedy classics you might look a little askance at the production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum now running at The Wick Theatre in Boca Raton. All the wonderful songs are there, all the jokes, the pretty girls and super singing, but something's been added. And it doesn't help.
It's been turned into a “let's cater to the Boca crowd” show with asides worthy of a community hall. Some aspects of the piece are not up to that standard.   But hey, it's Forum, so we can forgive a few blips.
The voices are excellent and the songs are just as fresh as if it were the first time heard. Thank goodness.
The standout of the show is Jim Ballard as Captain Milos Gloriosus, conquering hero and buyer of the virgin, Philia, played by Whitney Winfield. Ballard is an exceptional comic actor and the show comes alive every minute he's on stage. Thank goodness.
Broadway veteran Ken Jennings as Pseudolus seems desperate to prove that he's still got it. And he has. He sets a frantic pace, speaking, singing, running, jumping, mugging. Amazing stamina.
And the performances? Adequate. Wow, that seems harsh, but from the get go this Forum is played at a monotonously frantic pace. Lines are shouted; it's a comedy, let's act funny, that always works. Right.  
A gaily colored cartoonish set by Bruce Walters amplifies the cartoonish aspects of this Forum, and speaking of cartoonish the three Proteans whom I haven't the heart to name are...well, you get the idea.  Directed by Bob Walton with less than inspired choreography by Angela Morando-Thomas, lighting by Jose Santiago, sound by Justin Thompson. Music by Canned.
The Wick Theatre presents its production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum through November 1, 2015.

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