With the farcical ‘Forum,’ TNT will tickle funny bone

By Tracey D’Astolfo

Bouncy, buoyant and bawdy aptly describe the well-oiled production.

NILES — A funny thing happened Friday inside Trumbull New Theatre.

The farcical musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” opened, and it’s one of the best-received productions of the season at the theater.

The Stephen Sondheim-Burt Shevelove-Larry Gelbart comedy debuted on Broadway in 1962 and has been revived numerous times.

TNT’s version of the bawdy tale set in the old Roman Empire features some of the best sets of the community theater season in the Mahoning Valley. That, and a number of strong performances — most notably Tom Gent in the main role of Pseudolus — make the performance a winner.

It begins with the full-cast opening number “Comedy Night” and stays bouncy and buoyant through the end.

Pseudolus is a household slave who wants his freedom more than anything. When the masters of his house go on a trip, he conspires with their son, Hero (Dominic Hurton Jr.) to win the heart of Philia (Hilary Hapgood), a courtesan in the house of ill repute next door.

Unfortunately, Lycus (James R. Penn, decadent as the “master” of the house), has already sold Philia to Miles Gloriosis (Mike McGrail, powerful and, well, very tall), a captain in the Roman military.

After a lot of zany running around, popping in and out of doors and windows, mistaken identity gags, and — of course — cross dressing, everything comes to a happy ending.

Director Terri Gilbert keeps this “A Funny Thing” sailing fast and furious. She’s fortunate to have the excellent Gent carrying the show. Gent delivers like a professional comedian.

The giant cast includes a number of standout performances, including Wayne Morlock and JoAnn Winterbauer as Senex and Domina, Hero’s parents. Morlock is the repressed master of the house, while Domina is the dominant one.

Hapgood’s young Philia is perfect as the radiant and not too bright — the result of being raised to be beautiful. She and Hurton Jr.’s Hero make a delightful fresh-faced couple.

Russ Nalepa is Hysterium, the worrying head slave who succumbs to Pseudolus’ machinations to hilarious effect.

Larry Latsko adds a gut-busting moment with two simple lines as the wandering old man Erronius.

Credit needs to go to costume designers Diane Butler and Micky Burnworth, especially for their dressing of the courtesans.

TNT employs a six-piece orchestra, nestled behind the stage, for “A Funny Thing,” another sign of pulling out all the stops.

X”A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, May 15, 16 and 17; and 3 p.m. May 11 and 18. The theater is at 5883 Youngstown-Warren Road, Niles. Call (330) 652-1103.

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