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Old Lyric Company stages well-known, well-worn 'Forum'

By Jay Wamsley

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, June 16 2014 7:38 p.m. MDT

"A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM"; through Aug. 2; Caine Lyric Theatre, 28 W. Center St., Logan; $17-$30; running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes, one intermission (435-797-8022 or arts.usu.edu)

As the actors during the first act of the first offering of the Old Lyric Repertory Company’s summer season found their legs, patrons of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” realized one thing for certain: These actors are having a lot of fun.

The cast must have been told to live it up, laugh it up and not be afraid of going over the top and playing up to the audience. And it didn’t take long — perhaps the opening refrain of “Comedy Tonight,” the most recognizable of the tunes to be heard — for patrons to realize this was going to be a no-holds-barred vaudevillian comedy and would include some pretty shticky stuff.

But even though there were some lively, loud and watchable individual performances, “A Funny Thing” seemed to have a bit of disconnect with a smaller-than-usual opening-night audience. Summer audiences are usually quick to fall in line with the bigger-than-life, almost farcical musicals that come their way.

Maybe a few decades of increased sensitivities to 1960s theater norms, like the constant demeaning of women that abounds in “Forum,” have slowly seeped into theatergoers’ consciousnesses. Perhaps what was referred to as “bawdy” when “Forum” was making its Mel Brooks-fueled big-time run through the ‘60s and ‘70s theater scene might now be described as, well, “uncomfortable.”

And that is too bad in a lot of ways because there was much to have fun with and many positive actors and characters in this opening-night romp.

The thin plotline on which the comedy hangs in “A Funny Thing” revolves around Hero (Nick Selting), son of Domina (Camille Van Wagoner, a delight who dominated the stage) and Senex (Jonathon McBride), who has fallen for a, er, well, a girl of the night, one of many who live and work right next door — referred to as “courtesans” throughout the work. The household slave, Pseudolus (played by Richie Call, who, in many ways, packs this production on his well-performing back) is promised his freedom by Hero, if he is able win the girl next door (Philia, played by Kayli Jackson).

While the character of Hero calls for him to be somewhat unassuming and less over-the-top than many in the story, Selting almost disappears. His projection is pedestrian and his solos are better as duets — and he and others have the opportunity for several of them. As a point, the musical numbers in “A Funny Thing” are quite well done throughout. In fact, “Funeral Sequence” in the second act is probably the production’s highlight.

McBride was almost flawless as Senex, a philandering hen-pecked husband, with a perfectly played upper-crust snobbery that is easy to follow with his precise diction. W. Lee Daily also brings grins as Hysterium, yet another worker in the household of Domina and Senex. Daily is asked to do much in this production, from donning women’s clothes to feigning death, and he nails each moment.

The arrival of a Roman captain, Miles Gloriosus (Wyn Moreno), to whom Hero’s girl was promised — well, sold — adds to the confusion and actually helps the production come together. Moreno’s performance as the egocentric soldier was rock-solid and very watchable.

As has become almost an OLRC standard, the lighting and set design (Randy Mugleston and Shawn Fisher) are top-drawer and add a significant visual interest to the goings-on. Stephanie White’s choreography helps the musical comedy bounce along and is a lively part of the fun that at least the actors are having.

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is rated “Intermediate” by OLRC artistic directors for adult themes and dialogue. It will soon be joined in repertory by “Tons of Money,” “Elephant Man” and “The Musical of Musicals: The Musical.” The four productions will continue through Aug. 2.

Jay Wamsley lives in Smithfield and covers events in and around Cache Valley. He can be reached at jaywams01@gmail.com.

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