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Fresh on the heels of the Foothill Music Theatre production, Hillbarn Theatre is staging its own version of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
In addition to the pleasures provided by Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics and by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart’s book, Hillbarn has added a few extra touches to delight fans of musical theater.
For example, the opening “Comedy Tonight” begins with the curtain closed, but it opens briefly to reveal scenes from two very pop-u-lar musicals.
Quick allusions to other shows occur throughout. Listen for “Les Miserables,” “A Little Night Music” and “Into the Woods” and watch for “Fiddler on the Roof,” which Hillbarn will stage later this year.
Artistic director Dan Demers does double duty. First, he serves as co-director with Jim Ambler. This is a wise move because Demers also plays the lead role of Pseudolus, a wily Roman slave about 200 years before the Christian era.
Wanting to gain his freedom, he persuades his master, Hero (David Blackburn), to free him if he can help Hero win the hand of Philia (Ali Marie Gangi), newly arrived in the house of courtesans next door.
Of course it isn’t easy, especially since Philia’s procurer, Marcus Lycus (Russ Bohard), has already sold her to a blustering general, Miles Gloriosus (Gary Giurbino).
Pseudolus is aided by his fellow slave, Hysterium (Raymond Mendonca), but more obstacles are presented by Hero’s parents, Senex (Russell Ward) and Domina (Tracy Chiappone).
Because the show is a farce, there are lots of sight gags, mistaken identities and doors. The Hillbarn cast manages them all with split-second timing. There are also some pratfalls and bawdiness, but not to excess.
Demers is a comic marvel as Pseudolus, quick on his feet and quick-thinking as plans keep going awry. Among the other principals, Chiappone brings down the house with Domina’s powerful delivery of “That Dirty Old Man.”
All of the others do well, too, with the exception of Blackburn. His giggling Hero is misdirected, making him appear too immature for the character’s 20 years.
Adding able support are three versatile Proteans, played by Noah Bender, Brad Satterwhite and Jon Schneider, and the other six courtesans. They’re played by Paige Collazo, Meena Shayesteh, Christine Baker, Amanda Ross, Allison Zenke and Brigette Losey.
Like Demers, co-director Ambler wears another hat, serving as choreographer.
Matthew Mattei is the musical director, dealing only with the singing since the orchestra is recorded. At the Aug. 28 opening, this accompaniment was too loud for the singers in Act 1, but sound designer Alan Chang apparently made an adjustment at intermission, resulting in a better balance for Act 2.
The three-house set is by Kuo-Hao Lo, with lighting by Don Coluzzi. Mae Matos designed the Roman-era costumes.
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is a humorous way to begin Hillbarn’s 75th season. It runs about two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.
It will continue at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, through Sept. 20. For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411 or visit www.hillbarntheatre.org.