The University of Oklahoma’s School of Musical Theatre brings the classic 1962 Broadway farce “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” to vibrant life with a colorful production, featuring some strong lead performances, great sets and costumes, and spot-on musical accompaniment.
Taking inspiration from 2,000-yearold Roman comedies and classic vaudeville, “Forum” tells the story of Pseudolus, a Roman slave determined to earn his freedom by helping his naive master, Hero, win the heart of Philia, the girl next door, who just happens to be a dim-witted virginal courtesan.
Of course, Philia has already been promised to the famous Roman captain Miles Gloriosus, due to arrive that same day. Throw in some fast-paced, clever dialogue; some fun songs; cases of mistaken identity; and many chase scenes, and you’ve got a recipe for some crowdpleasing comedy.
As the intelligent but illiterate Pseudolus, music theater senior Ryan Wood sets an incredibly high bar for the rest of the cast, turning in a command performance that leaves no doubt he has a great future ahead of him as a professional actor. After seeing Wood in a number of great turns confined to supporting roles, it’s nice to see him given the chance to take the lead and so thoroughly succeed.
Skyler Adams does a fair job as Hero. Both Hero and his love interest, Philia, played with appropriate cluelessness by Emily Luhrs, aren’t written to be terribly interesting. While delivering totally acceptable performances, neither seems to find a way to compensate for the script, which is a little disappointing, considering their would-be romance drives the entire plot.
In the role of Hero’s philandering father, Senex, Curry Whitmire delivers one of the other two outstanding lead performances. Surprisingly powerful, thanks in no small part to his killer voice, is P.J. Sook as the narcissistic and awesomely ridiculous Miles Gloriosus.
In the one of the only two speaking roles for women, Kate Dinsmore succeeds in making Senex’s wife, Domina, as shrill and unlikable as possible early on. Thankfully, she opens up the character more in the opening number of Act 2, “That Dirty Old Man.”
OU’s production of “Forum” features another great set from designer Paige Hathaway, some fantastic costumes on loan from Music Theatre of Wichita, and excellent musical accompaniment conducted by Andreas Levisianos.
Veteran actor and director James Brennan has a pretty solid handle on the material, having played Pseudolus in a national tour of “Forum.” Working with a great creative team and cast, he’s crafted a production that’s fun, appropriately over-the-top and sure to please most audiences.