A Funny Thing...National Youth Theatre

"JP Luckenbach has designed a remarkable Roman set in which so many funny things happened."

Nominated for Outsatnading Set Design 2009.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Pseudolus wants out of the Roman slave business. As would any slave. So much so that he’s willing to risk his life for freedom (though he’s very motivated not to die trying). And with the arrival of Philia, the virginal courtesan next door, he’s finally got a shot. Hero, the adult son of his master’s house, wants to marry her. If Pseudolus can make that happen, Hero has promised Pseudolus his freedom.

Just one problem. Philia is already on lay away to the Roman military hero Miles Gloriosus.

Okay, that’s just one problem out of hundreds, and the quick-thinking Pseudolus will have to solve them all in Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The role presents its actor with one of the best opportunities in musical theatre, and Hamilton Academy’s Aaron Albert is up to the task in this bawdy comedy. By the closing weekend, Aaron was clearly having a lot of fun with the role, using body language, a variety of sound effects, a Godfather/Marlon Brando impersonation, tons of charisma, and the hem of his shirt in a pulling-out-all-stops effort to offer the crowd a Comedy Tonight.

He’s backed up by a host of strong actors and singers. Sophomore Sean Eads sports some surprising vocals as young, naïve Hero. Arianna Neikrug is a riot as the very blonde Philia whose one talent is to be Lovely, posing in hilarious ways to attract a mate (or whenever she wants to attract attention away from her lack of intelligence). Pseudolus, Hero, and Philia team up for a great Pretty Little Picture number with some help from the ensemble and choreographer Stacy Valentino in creating pictures of them sailing through the ocean waves.

Ben Shipley plays Senex, Hero’s father who thinks he’s about to get lucky with Philia, leading to his amusing father-and-son duet Impossible as both of them consider the unlikely likelihood of Philia being attracted to the other. Ben makes a great team with his wife Domina, with Melissa Shulman turning in a hilarious performance as the shrewish wife married to That Dirty Old Man. Melissa uses her voice with great skill, from a venomously angry wife to a beautiful operatic voice, and she can kill with her eyes (and does so often).

Elsewhere, Joe Faragher is fellow slave Hysterium who shares a great reprise of Lovely with Pseudolus. Saul R. Priever gives a memorable performance as Roman warrior Miles Gloriosus with a high, squeaky voice when overcome with emotion. Benjy Howard is Philia’s pimp Marcus Lycus who dresses as a monk outside and turns into an Elvis impersonator when selling his magnificent wares, with his talented courtesans dancing up a storm in some magnificent costumes (Kim Overton) guaranteed to generate quick sales. Not so quick is Cooper Sweeney as old Erronius – the other next-door neighbor who draws a big fan base every time he makes a lap around the hills of Rome.

Director Wendell Stevenson and his cast and crew have put together a show that hits well on the acting, singing, dancing and presentation, with lots of imaginative touches thrown in. Vance Miller’s orchestra does excellent work with the score with musical direction by John Hamilton, Kim Overton’s costumes look great and work perfectly for each of the characters, and JP Luckenbach has designed a remarkable Roman set in which so many funny things happened.

Performs December 4 - 13, 2008.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre