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Review: ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ at the University of Idaho

May 4, 2012

by Amy Hollon

The University of Idaho takes on the comic musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” this weekend.  Backed by a mix of Stephen Sondheim’s cleverness and a solid farce, this production is a pleasant evening of laughter and antics on stage.

That the show never reaches the level of “uproarious” is due to a cast with more gusto than talent, but it features the lowbrow sense of humor that is enjoyable.

The story, which takes place in ancient Rome, turns on quick-witted slave Pseudolus’ quest to free himself from his young master, Hero, by winning him the heart of Philia, a young courtesan promised to a conceited army captain. Caught up in his ever-evolving schemes are a henpecked husband, an old man searching for his missing children (abducted by pirates), the cowardly brothel owner, and the semi-hysterical head slave, aptly named Hysterium.

Paul Berroit’s fun scenic design sets a cartoonish tone from the start, and the set adds to the show’s liveliness with the use of its doors and windows.

The actors play their parts with a wink to the audience, especially Joshua Christiansen as the army captain, pumped up in both body and ego. Max Holley has the beautiful performance as Roman pimp, and his funny quartet, “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” with Eric Jensen shows off Sondheim’s best song in the show.

Sam Dinkowitz, as Pseudolus, crackles with energy and charm but lacks depth of character.   Kyle Rustebakke, as Hysterium, is so funnily high strung that his nervous outbursts of laughter seem like a necessity.

The women, though funny, don’t fare quite as well. Kristin Glaser is deliberately dopey as Philia, the object of Hero’s affection, and Emily Schnieder is comically cantankerous as Domina, Hero’s father’s domineering wife. But it’s tough to glimpse a heart underneath the characters’ surface laughs, and that makes this show much less warm.   The Harem is an awkward mess except for one standout in Lindsay Phillips.

But even if the laughs in “Forum” are less affectionate, they’re still plenty and deservedly loud.

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“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, plays May 4 and 5 at the University of Idaho’s Hartung Theatre on the corner of Sixth Street and Stadium Drive. Call (208) 885-7212 or visit www.uidaho.edu/class/theatre/features/forum for information.

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Amy Hollon is an MFA candidate in playwriting at the University of Idaho.

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