A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to The Forum - Chapel Off Chapel (VIC)
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Bert Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. Directed by Melanie Hillman.
Reviewed by Annika Loci
Chapel off Chapel, Melbourne
Until 24th September, 2023
Something for everyone as Watch This presents a hugely funny all-female version of Sondheim's classic -
Watch This, Australia’s only Stephen Sondheim repertory company presents the award-winning musical A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to The Forum (Forum for short). Often identified as one of the most hilarious musicals written by Sondheim, it’s the first show for which he wrote both music and lyrics. Together with a book by Bert Shevelove & Larry Gelbart they created the vaudeville style musical in 1962.
Set in Ancient Rome, Forum is the story of Pseudolus (a slave, Charmaine Gorman) who makes a deal with her master’s virgin son Hero (Milo Hartill) to help win him the hand of the beautiful virginal courtesan Philia (Mel O’Brien) in exchange for his freedom. However, Philia has been sold to the Captain Miles Gloriosus (Lusia Scrofani), so with the help of Hysterium (Jacqueline Hoy) looks for ways to keep the virginal lovebirds together. The results is a hilarious and cheeky plot with many twists, turns and musical farce.
The cast of A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to The Forum presented by Watch This. Images: Jodi Hutchinson
Decades later, this latest version of Forum is being reimagined and audiences are being asked to experience the farce through fresh eyes with an all-female identifying cast, with no changes to script. Director Melaine Hillman acknowledges that with a musical based on a 2000-year-old Roman playwright Plautus and theatrical tropes of the time, “problematic content” is to be expected in this post #metoo world. This includes outdated themes ranging from the portrayal of women as two dimensional to misogynistic humour.
Hillman’s direction asks the question: can the same dialogue be successfully reframed and delivered from different mouths to evoke alternative responses whilst maintaining the integrity and comedy of the original piece? Given tropes back in 200BC were all men portraying both sexes, why couldn’t it work as all females of different shapes, sizes, and ethnicity? Overall, Hillman achieves her goal, and as an audience member, it doesn’t take too long to recognize and accept the characters not as male or female, but rather just as humans.
The bright and energetic brilliant Sondheim score is executed to perfection under the direction of Trevor Jones. With the opening number “Comedy Tonight” we are introduced to Pseudolus played by the highly experienced and fabulously charming Charmaine Gorman who clearly draws upon her family background in Music Hall and Vaudeville. Milo Hartill brings fabulous vocals and comedic interpretation to bratty sex obsessed teenager Hero, alongside Mel O’Brien as a hilarious standout as Philia. O’Brien manages to give a very two-dimensional character depth with a simple wink to the audience creating a character which has more choice in her misleading dimwit behaviours. Sophie Weiss as Domina might be a minor role, but her performance of “The Dirty Old Man” certainly packs a punch vocally becoming more of a commentary on men who have ignored her historically. It was also a delight to see veteran of Australian Musical Theatre Judith Roberts bring the dottery old man Erronius to life with such expert ease.
A variety of sensational Australian female performers alongside an enjoyable, well-paced, witty and comical plot and score.
Sarah Tulloch’s black and white set of Romanic columns, statues and checkered floor created a nice visually dynamic contrast against costume designer Jemina Johston’s use colorful dresses, tunics and decorative trims. Unfortunately, the restrictive performance space of Chapel off Chapel meant that the three house frontages, essential for Forum’s comedy, was more of a suggestion with columns and some creative use of entry and exit points.
The 10-member ensemble often looked cramped in scenes (especially the final chase scene) with much of the story told by Gorman regulated to centre stage. The creative decision to use the fabulous comedic talents of Kristie Nguy introducing courtesans Tintinabula, Vibrata, Geminae and Gymnasia which then turn into goddess-like statues, was a nice subtle nod and reminder to the historical superficial themes of femininity underlying in the text.
This 2023 version of A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to The Forum brings together a variety of sensational Australian female performers alongside an enjoyable, well-paced, witty and comical plot and score. There’s certainly “something for everyone” here.
*RELAXED PERFORMANCES A relaxed performance is one that has been adapted in particular ways which make it more accessible for a range of audience members including autistic audiences, as well as members with sensory or communication conditions or learning disabilities. Audience members are invited to bring stim and sensory filtering devices into the theatre and the quiet space (The Loft), which will be available on the evening.
To download the Relaxed Performance guide click HERE
+PERFORMANCE IN HONOUR OF ANGELA LUMICISI On Monday 18 September we will be celebrating the life of Angela Lumicisi, a treasured member of our industry and the Watch This family (Sunday in the Park with George, 2019). We will be raising funds for the Peter Mac Foundation and raising a glass to Ang in the foyer after the show where you can donate in person. Thank you to the Lumicisi family for joining us for this special night.
Monday 18, 7pm (Performance in honour of Angela Lumicisi) - see below+ Thursday 21 & Friday 22, 7.30pm Saturday 23, 2pm (Auslan Interpreted) Saturday 23, 7.30pm Sunday 24, 2pm
$60 A Reserve Standard $55 A Reserve Concession $55 B Reserve Standard $50 B Reserve Concession $50 Restricted Viewing $50 Preview performances (8 September & 9 September 2pm show) $50 Industry Night (Monday 18) $50 Early Bird (valid until 9am Thursday 11 May)
Two hours & 20-minutes (incl. 20-minute interval) All Chapel Off Chapel performances have a strict lockout policy. Latecomers may not be admitted. Please arrive at least 15-minutes before performance time.