Ruislip Operatic Society - Winston Churchill Hall
HAVING cut his teeth writing the lyrics for the film versions of West Side Story and Gypsy, the young Stephen Sondheim produced his first full-scale Broadway musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, in 1962. He was inspired in his creation by the farces of the ancient Roman playwright, Plautus.
The show ran for 964 performances, won a host of Tony awards, and premiered in London's West End a year later, with Frankie Howerd in the lead role. Howerd reprised a similar role soon afterwards, in the television series Up Pompeii, which was partly inspired by Sondheim's creation.
The musical revolves around the occupants of three adjacent houses in ancient Rome.
In the centre is the house of Senex, who lives there with wife Domina, his son Hero, and several slaves, including the head slave, Hysterium, and the musical's main character, Pseudolus, who wishes to acquire his freedom.
One of the neighbouring houses is owned by Marcus Lycus, who is a buyer and seller of beautiful courtesans.
The other house belongs to the ancient Erronius, who is away searching for his long-lost children, stolen in infancy by pirates.
I have seen many Ruislip Operatic Society productions over the years, but this must rank among the best. The opening number promised Comedy Tonight and we certainly had plenty of that, along with some first-class singing and acting.
Congratulations to John Canepa, who got the very best from all his performers, and not only directed the show but provided all the excellent choreography as well.
There were numerous outstanding performances.
Jevan Morris as the scheming Pseudolus portrayed the character as a lovable rogue, establishing an immediate rapport with his audience, whom he frequently addressed directly.
Paul Hunter was Hysterium, whose character is all in the name. Paul is a comedy natural, and his antics provided many of the highlights of this show, especially when he was required to don a wig and pose as a beautiful woman!
The role of the hen-pecked Senex could have been created for the talented Les Dearlove, who played his part to perfection and with excellent comic timing, while Sheila Rawles managed to be both intimidating and sympathetic as his domineering wife.
Andrew Sonden played their son, Hero, with wide-eyed innocence and naivete, in his excellent debut performance with ROS.
Kirsty Whelan was Hero's love interest, Philia, and no one watching could have imagined that Kirsty is only 15 years old. She gave a confident, polished performance, and her singing voice was a pleasure to hear.
Maybe playing a character called Miles Gloriosus is in itself enough to draw out a powerful performance, but that is precisely what David Hampton delighted us with.
There is no space to credit all the other entertaining performances, but I cannot omit the comical acting of Martyn Jackson and Carl Quaif, who were billed as 'Proteans' but were in fact required to play virtually every other part, from eunuchs to Roman legionaries.
A note-perfect 15-piece orchestra under the direction of Gillian Barrett, and superb set design and lighting, were the icing on this very tasty cake.
* ROS will be back at the Winston Churchill Hall in Spring 2009, with Chess. Full details are on the society's website, at www.ruislipos.org.