Set aside all of your 21st century politically correct notions and feminist fury for a moment and go see A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the uproarious and slightly risqué muscial farce now playing at Oakland’s Woodminster Ampitheatre. As they so aptly sing in the show, “Morals tomorrow, comedy tonight!” This show is guaranteed to make you laugh, but you better hurry because it’s only here through August 19.
As in all farce Forum’s plot has twists and turns that would put a pretzel to shame even though it all starts out innocently enough. The settubg is ancient Rome. Pseudolus, a slave to his master, wants is his freedom. Hero, a slave to his love, wants Philia, the courtesan he pines for from afar. Exactly how each man gets what he wants will involve grand scale scheming, hilarious lies, mistaken identity and disguise – not to mention a cast with some singing chops that are amazing.
Leading the stellar cast is show-stopper Trente Morant who plays the clever Pseudolus. A well-known Bay Area favorite, Morant’s strong and vibrant voice is matched by his hilarious facial expressions and insane stage antics. Clearly he’s enjoying himself immensely and it’s infectious, if the laughter and loud clapping were any indication. When he makes a deal with Hero (Tyler Costin) to secure the lovely Philia (Megan Gallup) in return for his freedom the fun truly begins.
His partner in crime is fellow slave Hysterium, played by John Tichenor whose comedic timing is impeccable. Equally funny is Stu Klitsner as Erronius, Hero’s elderly neighbor who’s in search of his long-lost children, now grown. When Pseudolus needs Erronius’ house for one of his schemes, he disguises himself as a soothsayer and sends Erronius off to traverse the Seven Hills of Rome seven times, promising that his children will reappear upon the seventh go-round. Due to the design of Woodminster Amphitheatre, the audience catches glimpses of Erronius slowly trotting around. At intervals he shows up center stage and turns to the audience to announce how many times he’s circled around, and then departs once again on his trek. Trust me; it’s laugh-out-loud funny.
Great numbers abound in this Sondheim classic. The snappy mood-setting, “Comedy Tonight,” “Free,” in which Pseudolus sings wistfully of what it will be like when he is, and the wonderful vaudevillian romp of a song, “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” are just a few of the highlights.
Standout singers include Calvin Smith as the egotistical Miles Gloriousus, Kelly Houston as Lycus the bordello owner and the dazzling Rebecca Faiola as Hero’s mother, Domina. There’s also a touching number between Tyler Costin (Hero) and Jesse Caldwell who plays Senex (his father), his unexpected rival for Philia.
With beautiful dancing girls, bumbling Roman guards and eunuchs, Forum has it all. To top it all off, the Woodminster Amphitheatre was an unexpected delight and most certainly added to the magic of the evening. This hidden gem nestled among the trees and the stars high in the Oakland hills was built in 1941 as a Works Progress Administration project and seats 1500 patrons. Make sure to take a walk behind the theatre and see the cascading waterfalls and reflection pools. They don’t make ‘em like they used to. Come early and enjoy a wine and cheese picnic at one of the many picnic tables surrounding the venue, then sit back and enjoy A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Now thru August 19
Dress in layers and call for accessibility (510-531-9597)
Photo courtesy of Kathy Kahn