‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ at Montgomery College’s Summer Dinner Theatre

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As promised by the lead character, Pseudolus (Gregory Atkin), there is indeed “something for everyone” at Montgomery College’s Summer Dinner Theatre production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum directed by Walter Ware III and stage-managed by Matt Balfour.

Hasani Allen (Hero) and Gregory Atkin (Pseudolus ). Photo by Steve Wolf.
Hasani Allen (Hero) and Gregory Atkin (Pseudolus ). Photo by Steve Wolf.

In addition to the entertainment provided by the show itself (book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim), the young cast and interns cheerfully and attentively serving as wait staff make the experience a well-rounded few hours of pure fun.

For a couple of hours before curtain, audience members are able to eat, drink, and be merry in true dinner theatre style, most unaware that they are being served by some seriously talented individuals. Once the show starts, however, you realize how truly lucky you are to have the opportunity to interact with these thespians.

 Molly Janiga (Philia) and Hasani Allen (Hero). Photo by Steve Wolf.
Molly Janiga (Philia) and Hasani Allen (Hero). Photo by Steve Wolf.

The comically stereotypical young lovers, Hero (Hasani Allen) and Philia (Molly Janiga) are adorable, over-dramatic, and earnest. Allen, mercurial and childlike, glides, spins, and skips around the stage as Janiga cutely preens and flirts, making you root for them to get married as soon as possible despite the preposterous fact that they have only seen each other from afar and never spoken before the beginning of the story. They are silly and endearing singing “Lovely.”

Jason Guerrero plays Senex, Hero’s father, and although his youthful face and lack of father-son chemistry with Allen suggest he may have had more success in a different role, he has a powerful voice and great comedic timing.

As Domina, Hero’s mother, Dani Ebbin also has a strong voice and seems to have fun embracing the diva in her character. Unfortunately Domina does not appear very much throughout the show so whoever is playing her needs to be able to make her infrequent moments memorable, like her roof shaking “That Dirty Old Man.” And while Ebbins is clearly talented, she also has room to make her character unforgettable.

Hysterium, one of the family’s slaves, is brought fully to life by Harrison Smith. Smith is a physical actor, meaning he does not just speak his dialogue, but his whole body joins in through deliberate, purposeful, and constant movement, which is in full view in “I’m Calm.” Smith also has wonderful chemistry with Gregory Atkin’s Pseudolus, which produces some of the funniest moments of the show as in their

Next door to Hero’s family is the house of Marcus Lycus (Wira Dwijati).  Dwijati has a gorgeous singing voice and has perfected Marcus Lycus’ obligatory used car salesman smile.  He does tend to hurry through his lines, however, and it was sometimes difficult to understand his articulation, but overall he was a lot of fun to watch.

Marcus Lycus’ courtesans are also a lot of fun when they strut their stuff.  Candace Foreman’s Tintinabula is exotic with an impressively flexible back.  As Vibrata and Panacea (Michelle Salah and Alexandra Grimm respectively), feathers enticingly fly during their playfully bold and sassy routines. Valerie Hubert and Julia Link are the Geminae, decked out like graceful twin butterflies and Grace Gosnear is the fierce, whip wielding Gymnasia.

Declan Jeffries portrays Erronius, Hero’s family’s other neighbor.  Although he is not a particularly convincing old man, Jeffries brings lots of laughs with his show-stoppingly slow crosses from stage right to stage left that get increasingly ridiculous.

Thomas Brady is Miles Gloriosus, the captain who purchases Philia. Brady definitely looks the part of the heroic and arrogant captain and is both handsome and charismatic. His performance in the first act felt like he was holding back, which he has no reason to as his performance in the second act quickly made apparent.

As Pseudolus, Gregory Atkin shows that he is something special. He is polished, poised, and lively. The entire cast is wonderful, yet Atkin looked like he was transplanted from a professional stage. It is vital for Forum to have a good Pseudolus as he essentially runs the show and Atkin lives up to the role and then some with his faultless comedic timing, off the cuff improvisations, and natural showmanship.

Vasilia Adams, Amanda Dunsdon, Griffin Hellebuyck, Brian McNally, Danie Rodriguez, and Gabriela Sanchez are an energetic bunch who are clearly having fun as the show’s hardworking ensemble.

The Proteans, Francisco Borja, Solomon Parker III, and David Singleton, are equally as energetic and full of spry, comedic physical humor. They are a joy to watch onstage, however, it would not hurt for them to review their choreography together. Jesse Palmer’s choreography should be done justice. She has a wonderful knack of making all the performers look good, dancers and non-dancers alike, and staging some delightfully funny numbers.

John Henderson deftly serves as both Music Director and Conductor for the show, assisted by Stuart Weich (Associate Musical Director) and Marika Countouris (Assistant to the Musical Directors). The orchestra of nineteen valiantly plays through Sondheim’s tricky score with moderate success. The beginnings of songs were a bit rough and tentative, possibly due to the fact that the orchestra and the performers cannot see each other, and it takes several measures for them to sync up. Once they do, however, it is generally smooth sailing.

Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden’s scenic design initially appears to consist merely of the safe and traditional three houses familiar to Forum audiences. However, unexpected neon colored lights accent the houses, flashing and even changing color along with the action, giving the set an original and exciting modern twist.

Complementing the unique set are lights designed by Lynn Joslin and operated by Ben Cummins. They are a fun mixture of primarily pinks and yellows, with a clever instance of strobe lights thrown in at one point to help simulate slow motion.

It also must be mentioned that the follow spot are spot-on thanks to operators James Haberkamp, Hannah Kramer, Ivan Carlo, and Jordan Moral.

Thomas Brady (Miles Gloriosus) and Gregory Atkin (Pseudolus). Photo by Steve Wolf.
Thomas Brady (Miles Gloriosus) and Gregory Atkin (Pseudolus). Photo by Steve Wolf.

Sound design by Christopher Baine and executed by Lawrence Barnett (Sound Lead) and Kylie Smith (Sound Assistant) include a nearly flawless orchestra/vocal balance that contributed to the production’s professional atmosphere.

Peter Zakutansky (Costume Designer), assisted by Alex Conrad (Costume Lead) and an additional costume crew of eight, outfits the cast in bright colors, spectacular wigs, and the occasional cheeky modern accessory. Rounding out the technical participants are Production Coordinator Dennis P. Mulligan, additional staff members of Montgomery College, and a crew of student interns.

I urge you to come see this entertaining A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, as these talented young adults help you put off your tragedies until tomorrow and enjoy some comedy tonight!

Running Time: Approximately Two hours and 15 minutes, plus a 20-minute intermission, and a 90-minute dinner before curtain.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum plays through June 28, 2015 at the Theatre Arts Building on the Montgomery College Rockville Campus – 51 Mannakee Street, in Rockville, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

The Friday night and Saturday matinees offer show only tickets with the option to purchase drinks and light fare at the performances. Saturday nights and Sunday matinees are traditional dinner theatre performances featuring a full buffet, dessert, coffee, water, and hot tea included in the ticket price with beer, wine, and soft drinks available for an extra charge.

RATING: FOUR-AND-A-HALF-STARS8.gif