Standout performances bring about laughs in 'A Funny Thing'
Appearing in nearly every scene, Ashford carries the show with his energetic and amiable portrayal of the Roman slave Pseudolus, who plots, schemes, connives and risks life and limb to help his young master, Hero (Charlie Klutzz), woo his lady love, Philia (Gracey Falk).
If Hero wins Philia, then Pseudolus will win his freedom, the thing he wants most in the world, as illustrated in his wonderful song, "Free," a humorous and haunting duet with Klutzz.
Klutzz has a warm tenor and, despite a floppy pompadour wig, which is intentionally and effectively funny, Klutzz looks and sounds like the perfect romantic hero.
Ashford has a pleasant singing voice, flawless comic timing and wonderful expressions that he uses to show an ever-changing array of feelings without ever going over the top — well, except maybe in his death scene. The latter is a tour-de-force of zaniness in which he quotes from a madcap array of literary and pop-culture sources as he careens about the stage.
Smith, on the other hand, defines "over the top." After all, his character, the chief slave, is named Hysterium. Smith uses his rubbery face and antic vitality to enliven every scene he is in.
In addition to these standouts, the ensemble cast is solid and includes an excellent belly dancer, Tintinabula, danced by Angela Brady. Falk is, indeed, lovely as Philia, the virgin courtesan who wins Hero's heart.
The orchestra, under the direction of Margaret Gallagher, plays well enough but seems a bit restrained. Director Mark Pirolo keeps things crisp, and his colorful sets frame the action nicely, holding up to the slamming doors, slashing swords and pratfalls.
If you're looking for a belly laugh or two or three, "A Funny Thing" more than lives up to the promise of its name.