Stories of love are often tragic, but not when you add lighthearted songs and provocative dances into the mix. This spring, Radford University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts and the School of Dance and Theater put on “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” a hilarious tale of a young man who falls in love with a courtesan next door in the house of Marcus Lycus and begs his slave, Pseudolus, to buy her for him in exchange for his freedom.
The girl, Philia, not only resides in the house of ill repute next door, but she is a virgin who has already been sold to Miles Gloriosus, a great warrior-captain who is on his way to collect her. This makes for some very silly plotting by Pseudolus, who drags the chief slave, Hysterium, into the mix by dressing him up as a dead Philia.
Meanwhile, Hero’s parents, Senex and Domina, have some obvious marital issues, and Erronius, the rather old owner of the house next door, is gone for much of the play on his search for his long-lost boy and girl who were kidnapped in infancy by pirates.
As someone who is very familiar with the film version of this play/book, I jumped at the opportunity to see the first showing. I’m glad to say that it was not a disappointment. I expected the differences in the stage version, because it would be simply impossible to change the setting that much.
While the actors are not as middle-aged looking as most of the characters are, their skill made it easy to forget. Noah Kaplan (Pseudolus) was as cheeky and cunning as anyone could hope, Joseph Tuthill (Hero) had his head in the clouds even when no one was supposed to be looking at him, and Bussy Gower (Philia) did a wonderful job of looking wide-eyed and clueless.
Christian Hill (Erronius) really got the crowd going each time he hobbled across the stage and counted each lap he did around the seven hills of Rome. The audience couldn’t help but roar with laughter and cheer at his awkward interruptions of the main plot.
The rest of the cast was also great, but there was one malfunction on the first night that didn’t go unnoticed. During the scene where Pseudolus was looking at the women available in the house of Marcus Lycus, the Geminae Twins did a dance number where their fake ponytails got entwined, and when they lifted their heads up, one ponytail stayed put while the other went flying off. Rebecca Eastman and Kelly Nickell dealt with the situation like professionals and pretended nothing happened, waiting until they went backstage to fix the issue.
Another thing I noticed about the cast was that the actress who played Domina didn’t have the horse-like stature of her character. I noticed they decided to go a whole different direction with her hair and costume. I believe the set designer made a nod to this by painting the likeness of the movie-version of Domina on the top of her house.
The makeup and costumes were generally good, but I felt the lines on Senex’s forehead were a bit too fake looking from where I sat in the fourth row. I also would have liked to see the slaves dressed in more “slave-like” colors, or at least something less bright.
As a whole, the production was fantastic and memorable. Although it has ended its run at Radford University, I definitely suggest seeing this musical at some point in your life. I also hope to see similar musicals at RU in the future.