Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Set in ancient Rome, the plot follows Pseudolus, a slave who discovers that his young master Hero has fallen in love with the girl next door, Philia. The only problem is that Philia is a courtesan owned by Marcus Lycus, a buyer and seller of women, and is already sold to another man. So Pseudolus, seeing the opportunity to become a free man, convinces Hero to set him free if he can somehow bring Philia and Hero together. Hijinks ensue along with mistaken identities, plenty of bawdy humor, and non-stop hilarity.
Shevelove and Gelbart's book is well crafted, with overlapping plots and characters integrated into the whole, and Sondheim's score, his first for Broadway where he wrote both the music and lyrics, is a combination of funny songs and others that are lushly romantic. It's easy to see why Forum is a crowd-pleasing musical.
Peter J. Hill's smart direction is fun and fast paced and he ensures his cast deliver humorously rich performances. He also includes several visual gags that get big laughs. Hector Coris is a winner as Pseudolus. He has a firm stage presence, perfect comic timing, is able to ad lib impressively, and also has a warm and winning singing voice. He keeps the pace of the piece silly and light but also doesn't shortchange the importance of Pseudolus' desire to be a free man. Coris is delivering a natural, unpredictable, and downright hilarious performance. It also looks like he's having a lot of fun.
The rest of the cast is more than up to the challenge of delivering the fast-paced, farce-like dialogue and the humorous and sophisticated lyrics of the score. Jesse Berger is suitably frantic and frenzied as Hysterium, Pseudolus' fellow slave who tries to stay calm when everything starts to get out of control but fails miserably. Berger and Coris work well together to keep their comical scenes sharp and Berger is hilarious when he has to don a disguise in the second act. With gorgeous voices and plenty of vacant glances, Thomas Smith and Kathlynn Rodin are charmingly naïve and sweetly adorable as the young lovers Hero and Philia. Gerald Thomson is appropriately bawdy as Hero's father Senex, who believes Philia desires him, and Kathleen Berger is perfect as Domina, Senex's controlling battle-ax of a wife. The two play off each other, and the rest of the cast, very well.
Teddy Ladley is impressive as Miles Gloriosus, the tough warrior who bought Philia. With a strong, clear voice that soars and a firm grasp, he is still being capable of finding the humor in this in-control and fairly conceited man. Peter Cunniff does well as Marcus Lycus, appearing to be strong on the outside but becoming absolutely terrified once Miles enters the scene. With just a few well-delivered lines, Dan Stroud scores big in the smaller role of Erronius. Thomas F. Graca, Griffin LeBlanc, and Robbie Nelson add many moments of zany humor as the Proteans, while Delaney Spanko, Chloe Blinn, Thea Eigo, Anna Sell, Deserae McCall, and Hayley Hickley bring amusing and sexy dance steps as the Courtesans to "The House of Marcus Lycus."
Choreographer Paul Pedersen's steps are fun and appropriately frantic but always danced well by the cast. Steve Hilderbrand's music direction derives some gorgeous sounds from both the cast and the large orchestra. The creative elements perfectly add to the humor of the show, with Tiana Torrilhon's beautiful and large set design and Whitney Tres's costumes infused with bright colors and comical elements. Jeff A. Davis' lighting provides rich and warm tones that add to, yet never detract from, the humor in the show.
With a cracker jack cast, astute direction and impressive and bright creative aspects, TheaterWorks' production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is one of the best I've seen.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, through March 3, 2019, at TheaterWorks, 8355 West Peoria Avenue, Peoria AZ. Tickets can be ordered at theaterworks.org or by calling 623-815-7930
Director: Peter J. Hill