Funny things happen in bare-bones Sondheim musical

Unscripted wardrobe malfunction sends actor and audience into hysterics

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

At Jericho Arts Centre until Oct. 22

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Tickets: 604.224.8007, jerichoartscentre.ca

A funny thing happened at A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum last Friday night. Ryan Mooney, better known as the artistic direct of Fighting Chance Productions (FCP) but appearing in this show as Pseudolus, lost it. Got the giggles, missed his cue. It began as a costume malfunction when the gown on cross-dressing Hysterium (Michael Wild) slipped off one brawny shoulder revealing a bare chest. Wild looked startled, Mooney started to laugh, the audience started to laugh and it snowballed for several glorious moments before Mooney quipped to Wild, Pull it together or something to that effect. You cant script anything that funny.

Mooney has directed 16 of FCPs 21 shows (including the fabulous Sweeney Todd), but Ive never seen him out of the directors chair and on stage. Hes very, very funny, quick on his feet, fast with the ad lib, works an audience like a snake oil salesmanall this while maintaining the furrowed brow and nervous energy of a con man.

Under the capable direction of Cathy Wilmot, Mooneys not the only funny man on stage. Wilds Hysterium (Im calm, Im calm) is hysterical in shorn scalp and big glasses and Peter Staintons Sennex is wonderfully doddery as a senile old fart looking forward to sowing his wild oat (yes, thats oat, singular).

I might be the only person who has never seen either the original 1962 musical (book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) or the 1966 film (starring Zero Mostel), but like Hamlet, you dont have to have seen it to know, sort of, what its about. What I didnt anticipate was how funny it still is. Courtesan to eunuch, for example, Dont you lower your voice to me. Or Philia (sweet-voiced Elyse Maloway), who has been purchased from the brothel owner but not yet deflowered, saying to love-struck Hero (Cameron Dunster), Id show you my legs but theyre sold. And, of course, with lyrics by Sondheim, the songs are packed with witticisms, clever rhymes and singable songs such as Comedy Tonight.

Its an old storyreally old. Shevelove and Gelbart based the musical on the farces of Plautus, a Roman playwright (251-183 BC). Farces were traditionally short and stuffed between weightier dramas; they featured stock characters that typify human qualities such as greed, lust, innocence and villainy.

The thing in A Funny Thing is that Pseudolus, slave to handsome, young Hero, wants to buy his freedom but lacks the cash. Hero has fallen for Philia who lives in the brothel next door but Philia has been bought and paid for by Gloriousus (Matt Ramer), recently returned from battle. If Pseudolus can fix things up between Philia and Hero, will Hero free him? Of course. But how?

Funny things become crazy things as the plot unfolds.

While Mooney is completely charming in a Puck-ish way, there are better voices: Ramers voice is glorious as Gloriousus and Danielle Lemon dominates with her big, operatic voice as Domina.

The girls are gorgeous; the production values are, well, as Mooney quips during a song that refers to a curtain, Well, it wasnt in the budget so youll just have to imagine it. Its an amateur show, full of enthusiasm and budding talent.

But its a lot of fun and, as the song goes, Something thats gaudy/Somethings that bawdy/Something for everybawdy/Comedy tonight. Tragedy can wait; its comedy every night these nights at the Jericho Arts Centre.

joled@hiredbelly.com

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