Though the opening number promises "Comedy Tonight," much of Musical Theatre Southwest's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," is a tragedy.
The first act hobbles along like the musical's aged character Erronious, while cautious cast members butcher the art of farce. Only a clever script and a vibrant leading man mitigate the flatness of the production.
Craig Myers is an absolute stitch as the leading man, the Roman slave Pseudolus. With each clownish prance and inflection of his versatile voice, Myers endears the audience to his scheming character. Myers' comedic gifts and Nathan Aylworth's stunning portrayal of Erronious save the day for "Forum." The rest of the cast is so flat that Myers appears to be a comic genius.
"Pseudolus is a conniver with only one interest - freedom - and he'll do anything to get it," Myers said of his character.
The sneaky slave is not above using his young owner Hero's infatuation with a courtesean from the local house of ill repute to achieve emancipation. Hero, played by Joe Gonsowski, promises Pseudolus his freedom if the slave can deliver the beautiful Philia to him.
That Philia, played by Aleah Walden, has already been sold to a fierce Roman captain does not deter Pseudolus, and the slave's antics weave a riotous tangled web that endangers the entire neighborhood.
The bumbling, glorified extras, the Proteans, disgrace almost every scene they are in. The young actors are over-rehearsed, and only their spots as eunuchs and soldiers are the least bit funny.
The Courteseans are embarrasing. Their tittering is fake and their dancing is sloppy and uninspired. The only time the Proteans and the Courteseans shine is during the second act's meticulously staged chase scene. Their hilarious romp through Rome is a highlight of the show.
UNM students Gonsowski and Waldron turn in solid musical performances as Hero and Philia. Gonsowski delivers his songs with feeling. Waldron effortlessly convinces the audience of Philia's innocence. Their lover's duet, "Pretty Little Picture," almost makes the first act worth sitting through. Unfortunately, Gonsowski and Walden rely too much on their vocal talent and go through the motions when reciting their lines.
Erronious is stunning as Hero's daffy next door neighbor. Aylworth, a 21-year-old UNM junior, transformed into the 87-year-old Erronious without a hitch.
"I stole my `old man' voice from a cartoon and studied `Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory's' Jack Morgan to create Erronius' walk," Aylworth said.
Jacob Smith is consistently stuffy and arrogant as the Roman captain, Miles Gloriosus. Gloriosus' rages are brilliantly controlled and Smith livens up most of the scenes he appears in.
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The rest of the cast oscillates between listlessness and hysterics. Their interpretation of "Forum" is either too slow or too fast.
The uneven production will pep up an otherwise dull Friday night, but don't bend over backwards to make this show.
"Forum" runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Feb. 25 at the Hiland Theatre. Tickets range from $10 to $23. For more information, call the Musical Theatre Southwest box office at (505) 262-9301.