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The Villages
Thursday, April 18, 2024

Bawdy love story brings ancient Rome to life in show at Savannah Center

“A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to The Forum” is a bawdy love story wrapped around a slave’s desire for freedom and the hoary glory of ancient Rome.

Put it all together and you get “Gladiator” meets “Monty Python.” That suits a lively and talented cast from Smash Productions just fine. The show opened Tuesday and runs through Thursday in Savannah Center.

Stephen Sondheim wrote the music in the early 60s. He along with writers Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart offered a tribute to the slam-bang comedic pace of old vaudeville, with a little burlesque tossed in for good measure. Not to mention the classic Roman comedies of Plautus.

You can’t go wrong with Sondheim, especially if you add: dancing girls, Roman soldiers, a house of ill-repute, an innocent kid and a pure damsel. All that’s missing is Zero Mostel, who starred in the original musical back in the early ‘60s. Later, Phil Silvers and Nathan Lane took on the lead and all three earned Tony Awards.

Tim Casey standing along with Bob Addante and Jill Marrese add life to a musical scene
Tim Casey, standing, along with Bob Addante and Jill Marrese add life to a musical scene.

That is select comedic company, and while Tim Casey can’t match those stars, he shines in the role of Pseudolus. He’s a frustrated slave who will hustle anybody for a chance at freedom. He robustly states his case in the number, “Free.”
Casey has a knack for broad humor, physical slapstick and rapid-fire timing. He sets the high-energy pace that percolates throughout the production.

It’s Casey, who leads the cast in the rousing opening number “Comedy Tonight,” that stops the show in a hurry.

Lila Ling a former Rockette is right at home on the lap of Tim Casey in this dance scene
Lila Ling a former Rockette is right at home on the lap of Tim Casey in this dance scene.

Casey’s best ticket to freedom comes if he can match his naïve, innocent master’s son Hero (Bob Addante) to the newly arrived “virgin” Philia  (Jill Marrese).

Addante is brimming with youthful testosterone in this role. He flashes a toothy smile and expresses his feelings on “Love I Hear” early in the first act.

Jill Marrese, decked out in a white dress and vail, with flowing blonde hair, is looking for love in all the wrong places. She’s up for sale by Marcus Lycus (Gary Chubeck), who runs the “house  of  Courtesans.” He sold Phila to Miles  Gloriosus ( Jack Filkins), the egomaniac who leads the Roman soldiers.

Marrese showcases her vocal skill on “Lovely” as she and Hero declare their love for each other.
It’s up to Tim Casey to set everything straight for the rest of the play and there are plenty of laughs and plot twists.

Jack Filkins, center, leads his Roman soldiers into mischief
Jack Filkins, center, leads his Roman soldiers into mischief.

Bonnie Williams is the domineering wife of Senex (Tim Ruwart) and they play Hero’s parents with outrageous style. Jack Filkins is irresistibly conceited as the Roman captain after Phila’s heart.  Barry Corlew as Erronius grunts and growls his way on stage in a semi-blind search for lost children.  Young Ben Keefe adds some sparkling dance moves as a Protean, and is joined by Frank Olive and Patti Card.
Then there are the dancers from the house of Marcus Lycus.

Cast members carry Tim Casey through this number
Cast members carry Tim Casey through this number.

Lila Ling is a former Radio City Rockette who came to The Villages a few years ago. She moves with athletic grace and seductive charm.
The other dancers tempting Pseudolus are: Bridget Wendt, Lori Bellitt, Kathy Chesley-Williams, and two more who play the Geminae Twins: Ying He and Elizabeth Albrecht.

The show is directed by Bob Stehman and produced by Susan Feinberg. Mary Ann Rockenbach is the musical director for the show, which features a live orchestra. Barbara Byers did the choreography.

Tony Violanti writes about music and entertainment for Villages-News.com. He was inducted into The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame as a music journalist.

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