Review: VLT’s ‘Funny Thing’ delivers a lighthearted, unpretentious show

Front: Hailey Henderson, Tom Wilson, Cash McAllister. Back: Cody Mendonca. Photo courtesy of Richard Scheeland/Scott Barkhurst.

Theatre can make you think. It can ask significant questions about the world we live in. It can even move an audience to reevaluate their own understanding of life.

The Very Little Theatre’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum did none of these things — but that’s okay, too. Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical farce is nothing but ridiculous from beginning to end, and the Very Little Theatre’s production stayed true to that spirit in their matinee performance Sunday afternoon.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum tells the story of Pseudolus, a Roman slave hoping to win freedom by uniting his young master with the beautiful maiden next door. Mishaps and shenanigans ensue, of course, all set to Sondheim’s clever score. Sondheim is renowned for a reason. The soundtrack is laden with wordplay, chock-full of humor, and incredibly challenging to perform.

For this reason, fans and purists likely won’t be satisfied with the VLT’s production. While some numbers did justice to their Tony-winning roots, others fell flat. The vocals were frequently pitchy or forced as the cast tried to navigate difficult rhythms and pitches. What the singers lacked in technical ability, however, they made up for in energy. This was especially true of actor Tom Wilson, who played Pseudolus. From beginning to end, Wilson committed completely to his larger-than-life character with outrageous physicality and animated expressions. Even through musical struggles, the story and comedy were crystal clear.

Throughout Forum’s two acts, the audience encountered all types of comedy, from puns to cross-dressing. While some of the jokes, especially those about women, were borderline creepy, and a few moments felt over-played, it would be very difficult to watch this production and not laugh. In the colorful melange of wordplay, misunderstanding, and lewd physical humor, it was easy to enjoy the play.

In his note to the audience, director Michael Watkins asserts that “there is nothing subtle about this show.” The actors interact with the audience, and openly make fun of each other and themselves. There is no moral or message to this show, but it’s clear that’s exactly what Forum is all about. It is unapologetically offensive, stupid and just plain funny. This production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum wasn’t flawlessly produced or especially thought-provoking. Regardless, it was entertaining and sometimes that’s all you need.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum runs through April 4. Shows are Thursday through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. at the Very Little Theatre (2350 Hilyard St.) Tickets are $20. Visit the Very Little Theatre website for more information.

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