Review by Danny Gaisin
Disclaimer:- I’m not a fan of Sondheim (boring & repetitious) but his 1962 fun musical ‘A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM’ is the exception. Roughly based on a 2nd C. BC play ; it tells the convoluted story of a Roman slave who hopes to win his freedom by helping his master’s son get the girl . The original play starred Zero Mostel as the conniving ‘Pseudolus’, who (sort of) reprised the character-type 5 years later abut updated 2200 years, his The Producer-ing ‘Bialystock’ is also a major scammer.
The introductory number is titled ‘Comedy Tonight’ and its certainly descriptive of the Etobicoke Musical Prod’ effort.
Under the wily and hilarious direction by Gillian Rodrigue, some of the song’s lyrics are apt and descriptive. ♫ Something appealing, something peculiar ; something aesthetic & something frenetic ♪ all illustrate this professionally staged 2 ½ hours of fun. The overall imagery is both delicious and intimate. The latter is accomplished by Rodrigue’s having the cast – especially the pivotal Pseudolus; giving informal and cozy asides to the audience. There are a few contemporary inclusions, as well as modern dances and non-Sondheim musical numbers. Music director Andrew Ascenzo; & choreographer David Smith‘s contributions are noticeable and remarkable in makes the overall effort such a standout effort.
I don’t know how much leeway Rodrigue allowed her charges, but one senses that the cast has put their own imprimaturs on the portrayals. Some little embellishments and even idiosyncrasies can’t be directed…they have to be instinctive. Still, her detailing, blocking and timing direction show a firm hand on the technical reins of her particular responsibilities
Martin Buote IS Pseudolus. His every facial expression; physical stance and even the slight taken-aback moments all underscore his monologues and interactions. The opening bit where he introduces some of his co-cast members and especially his almost disruptive (and scrumptiously funny) bit where he chastises the crew for putting on a ‘Tragedy scene’ when he’s singing about ‘Comedy Tonight’. Its a perfect mood-setter. His sideman is ‘Hero’ the young and naive son of the household. David Huffman physically captures the ingenuousness of his character but it is his incredible tenor voice that is most noticeable. His aria ‘Love, I hear’ solo is done with a special style of presentation that adds profundity to the song’s emotion and lyrics.
The love interest (She’s ♫ Lovely, all she is- IS lovely…and winsome ♪) must be virginal and wanton at the same time. A challenge but not for Julia Pulo who manages to be physically reticent yet sumptuously desirable. She’s got a pleasant soprano voice but unfortunately her duets are all with Huffman who vocally outshines her. She’s an inhabitant of the local house of ill-repute who’s been contracted out (read -Sold) by the boss, Tommy Amoroso whose thespian talents deserve a much bigger role. The buyer is Captain Gloriosus and Brandon Chambers has to introduce himself (unlike Carmen’s Toreador) by recounting his exploits as “oppressor of the meek; subduer of the weak; with Shrines to sack and ribs to crack”. Sounds like a perfect theme song for ISIS!
One of the most interesting scenes is Pseudolus’ auditioning the courtesans on behalf of Hero. Not only is the bit audaciously sexy but the individually choreographed dances especially the intro one by Caroline Rowe are terpsicorically (sic) appealing, but the individuality; costumes and background music wish that Amoroso had an additional half-dozen more courtesans in his stable!.
The 15-person orchestra under Ascenzo is top drawer; the fifty person production team, the set is more than adequate – the result is certainly COMEDY TONIGHT, and is at the Meadowvale Theatre on Montevideo Drive. Hopefully, after today it will be a sold-out run… it deserves it.