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The Europeans

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Des McAnuff's Stratford Theatre Festival production of the classic musical comedy soars to even greater heights.

By Toronto
Bruce Dow and company in
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
(© David Hou)
Bruce Dow and company in
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
(© David Hou)
Laugh-out-loud musical comedies don't come any more polished than Stephen Sondheim, Bert Shevlove, and Larry Gelbart's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and director Des McAnuff's new production at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival practically throbs with gusto.

Indeed, his jovial interpretation of rambunctious Rome in 200 B.C. is accented with squiring fountains, singing statues, and an airy moment reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe's famous blown-dress image, all of which allow this delicious show to soar to even greater heights.

The plot is pure farce: Duplicitous slave Pseudolus (Bruce Dow) arranges for his freedom by brokering a deal with Hero, his master's son (Mike Nadajewski), to divert the sale of a virgin courtesan, Philia (Chilina Kennedy) to vain army captain Miles Gloriousus (Dan Chameroy). But when the father, Senex (Randy Hughson), returns home without warning, the son's plan to wed the house of ill repute girl-next-door begins to nimbly fall apart.

The cast captures each sequence as if it was their birth right to do so. Dow doesn't need to say a word when he steps on stage before the applause starts. In the opening number, "Comedy Tonight," there's an immediate sense he's internalized the part of Pseudolus that to the point where his animated antics can lead the story in one direction with his co-stars willingly tagging along for the fun.

Hughson, whom local audiences primarily know as an actor embracing comically edgy personas, has found a brave new stride in parading his performing arts talent -- and he's never looked better. To see him belt out a tune and sway to the rhythms is about as welcomingly surreal as it gets. As the vivacious virgins, Nadajewski and Kennedy cheerfully shine in their respective roles. His ambitious aching in "Love I Hear" is superb, and the couple's "Lovely'" strike a deeply romantic ritual chord in a scene that is sealed with a kiss.


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