OGDEN — As the first successful musical of the great Stephen Sondheim as lyricist and composer, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, with a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart and based on the plays of Plautus, is a comedic look at ancient Rome and forbidden love. This production, directed and choreographed by the new head of the Weber State Drama Department, Cody Walker, was a nice way to spend an evening because of the new talent being trained in the Weber State program.
One of my favorite things about college theatrical programs is knowing the student power that goes into every aspect of the show, from the acting to the music to the technical elements. The set and stage design, by Van Tinkham, was creative with the use of levels and poles that came into the action with great comedic effect. Behind Tinkham there was likely some set design students putting in time, labor, and ideas that contributed to the final product. The same thing could be said for the vibrant, colorful costumes designed by Erin Carignan, and hair and makeup by Aailiyah Jenks and Kaylee Orr. These were fantastic elements that added a great deal of visual design to the performance.
Additionally, I was impressed with the quality of the music in this production. Music director Bradley Vieth did an excellent job of working with the cast to achieve beautiful harmonies, coupled with live music, something that I truly appreciate. The musical elements of a show owe a lot to the team of sound technicians that handle the microphones, sound mixing, and everything that entails. Sound designer Jessica Greenberg and her team have done well with the balance needed in this production.
Those familiar with the story of Forum know that the show is full of comical energy surrounded by the characters of Psuedolus (played by Matthew Baxter) and Hysterium (played by Seth Foster). I know that the phrase “they stole the show” gets thrown around a lot, but especially in this case, there would be no other way to describe what happened on the stage at Weber State with this production. From the opening number, “Comedy Tonight,” it was clear that Baxter had been well cast as the talented, amusing Psuedolus who will do whatever it takes to gain the freedom that he desires. Baxter’s energy and ability to command the attention of the audience was commendable. Hysterium, the highly stressed chief slave, matched his name in so many ways. The number “I’m Calm” was so masterfully done by Foster that it may have been the best performance of that song that I have ever witnessed. In the song “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” these two characters are joined by Marcus Lycus (played by Callahan Crnich) and Senex (played by Colton Ward) who form a fabulous quartet musically, choreographically, and comedically. On the other hand, some of the other chraracters, such as Hero (played by Wyatt Hendrick) and Philia (played by Katy Wood) were overshadowed. The performances were decent, but did not seem to stand out in the way that the others did.
Throughout the show Walker’s choreography was a highlight. From the opening number, to the dancing in “The House of Marcus Lycus,” to the finale, I enjoyed how the choreography added to the humor of the show, displaying both the dancing and acting talent of the cast. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was a nice way to forget my troubles and laugh for an evening. The show also represented some of the best things about collegiate theatre, the coming together of people immersed in learning about the arts and how to create entertainment. Some of the subject matter may not be suitable for all audiences, so I would encourage parents to look up details of the plot before determining suitability for their family.