A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through Sept. 29. Click here for a synopsis and more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company kicks off their 25th anniversary season with their first musical production, Stephen Sondheim’s A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.
Visually FORUM is bright, colorful, and fun. I thought the Vegas-inspired costumes of the Courtesans’, designed by Brian Horton, were nicely done and had a Bob Mackie quality to them that I enjoyed. The incorporation of pixel tape into Adam Zeek’s lighting design (or is that into Shannon Robert’s scenic design?) was a nice touch and it was very effective when it was synced to the music. The two-story, three house set worked very well for the script demands and housing the orchestra. The attention to detail was impressive and the fountain was a fun addition.
The sound design of Douglas J. Borntrager nicely balances the orchestra with the vocalists. I had no issues hearing every spoken and sung word, an impressive feat for their first musical in the space. Speaking of the orchestra, I thought the music sounded full and rich and well directed by Erin McCamley,
FORUM has a special place in my heart as I have childhood memories of watching it on TV with my Dad. I enjoy the music and I do believe it is a better musical than movie. This production is fun and sports a talented cast, but I think the show struggles as musical theater.
To me, the show felt segmented and didn’t flow well from scene to scene. In hand with that, the show failed to build any momentum. Aside from Kelly Mengelkoch as Domina and Matthew Johnson as Pseudolus, it seemed that many of the CSC’s ensemble didn’t create a character. When speaking, they tended to drop into their familiar Shakespeare voice and tempo which worked against not only the pacing, but some of the comedy as well. The chase in act two could also be tightened up timing wise, as several times the stage was empty as we waited on entrances.
I found the comedy of the show to be very similar to what is usually done with their “Abridged” productions, but this time with musical numbers. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, but it also isn’t really new or different, either. I also think that there is more comedy to be mined from the script and more options for physical comedy.
The staging is forward-heavy, but the only sight line issue I had was during the “Lovely” reprise as the pair were so far downstage and facing in toward each other. Since the fourth wall is broken so frequently, actors could work to be a a bit more inclusive of all the audience.
Overall, this is an enjoyable production especially if you haven’t seen FORUM before. I do hope the cast can “shake off their Shakespeare” and really come to embrace the fun and silliness of the show over the remainder of the run.
As of this writing, two performance has been added to the run: Saturdays, Sept. 15 & 22 at 2pm.
My rating: 4.25 out of 5.
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