“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”: A Theatrical Review
Community theatre always offers either a conglomerate of folly or a cacophony of ingenious capability. I am pleased to tell you that The Whittier Community Theatre has quite successfully succeeded at the later. Playing Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through September 25, 2010, The Whittier Community Theatre opens its 89th season with Stephen Sondheim’s ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to The Forum’, directed by John Francis with musical direction by Brian Murphy, choreographed by Lindsay Martin and produced by Suzanne Frederickson and Rick Frohling.
This production is either one of your very favorite Broadway hits or it is one of those productions you simply cannot find within yourself to enjoy. This is because humor is taken from a circumstantial prologue that requires the audience attendee to understand the story behind the story in order to truly appreciate it. Allow me to explain. Set approximately 100 years before the death of Jesus Christ, this production is set in period day Rome, Italy. During this time of the gladiators and vast and furious upheaval, there were indeed groups of theatre troupes that prepared (often nightly) impromptu , improvisational staged stories for the people of the town that would gather for entertainment. Like the actors of the Whittier Community Theatre, they usually did not earn any money. If they were lucky, some viewers would toss a coin or two in their tin cup, which would then be used for props, costumes, and the occasional celebratory meal together.
Understanding the background from which this production is written helps to identify with the story itself, though the production never gives today’s viewer any of this information. In this production, the theater troupe has chosen to present a comedy (the more common selection for most theatrical troupes of that day) as tragedy was an all-too-familiar theme at that time; not all that different than our lives today. As in that day and time, the same actors are used each night, often playing more than one role and using the same sets (each piece being something different each time a show is performed) making up the dialogue as they go. Few who have ever attempted improvisational acting truly have an appreciation or respect for the talent and wit required to do it well. In this production, Burt Shevelove and Larry Gilbart (the writers of the script) the cast are all written as being incredibly talented and capable performers. That said, whether you enjoy this style of comedy or not, every true student of theatre can find absolute appreciation of this script. Also of note are the skill and talent of the Whittier Community Theatre’s cast who cause the viewer to hold great respect for their hard work and dedication.
In this production of Romanesque recall, a love story is told through comedic fashion that, though sometimes a little vulgar (as would have been all too common in Rome in the day), true acting ability as well as some amazing vocals are exhibited. The lead Pseudolis, played by Eric Cajiuat, gives a performance that even Nathan Lane (the actor who made this role famous) would have been proud to witness. The hero of the story, comically named Hero, is played by a young 17 year-old Arron Aguayo, who offers some strong vocal skills, as well as a convincing naïveté that draws the audience in and holds them throughout the performance. The supporting role of Hysterium, played by Richard DeVicariis, lends a heartwarming and powerful belly laugh with practically every word he says on stage and Monika Pena, portraying Philia, offers some power house vocals that would normally be found on much larger stages.
As a producer and director myself, I can honestly say that if ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ is the kind of quality programming that the Whittier Community Theatre presents on a regular basis, I sincerely hope that I am invited back to review each and every program that they offer. With an upcoming season including ’12 Angry Jurors’, ‘Quilters’, and ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’, the Whittier Community Theatre has a great deal to offer. This group, a non-profit artistic outreach program, has begun their 89th season with a major success and at their more-than-realistic pricing and comfortable, clean and easy-to-find location, they are certain to have many more successful seasons.
The Whittier Community Theatre is located at 7630 S. Washington Ave. right next to the Whittier Community Center in the heart of Whittier, California. For tickets, either show up 15 to 20 minutes early to purchase at the ticket window, contact them by phone at 562-696-0600, email them at email@example.com or log on to their web site at www.whittiercomminitytheatre.org. Whichever you choose, prepare yourself for a night of laughter and relaxation.