Porthouse Theatre mixes ancient Rome and comedy in season opener

Aden Graves, Reporter

Porthouse Theatre, Kent State’s covered outdoor summer theatre, is opening its 55th season Friday with the musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

Described as “Broadway’s greatest farce” by Music Theatre International, the show is the first of three productions this season intended to make audiences “LOL all summer long.”

Influenced by the farces of the ancient Roman playwright, Plautus, the story follows a slave named Pseudolus as he attempts to win his freedom by helping his young master get the girl next door.

Terri Kent, a professor and coordinator of the musical theatre program and Porthouse’s producing artistic director, said that she hopes this musical offers audiences a chance to escape the complications of today’s world.

“Sometimes we just need to relax, have some fun and laugh out loud,” Kent said. “The story, in its vaudevillian style, emphasizes that we all have the right to be ‘free.'”

Putting on a production like this takes many talented cast and crew members to help make the show come to life, and Kent said that she is thankful to work with the cast and her collaborators.

“I am inspired by their work each and every day,” Kent said. “I am proud of our company and humbled to be surrounded by such talent and joy.”

As stated on their website, Porthouse Theatre’s mission since 1968 has been to help student theatre artists grow in a professional environment, and over 20,000 people see their productions each summer.

Among this production’s cast members are Kent State theatre students as well as professional actors.

Jay White, a two-time Grammy-award winning vocalist, plays the role of Senex, an established Roman citizen. He said that he enjoys getting to work with his colleagues and students.

“To share the stage with seasoned and emerging professionals along with KSU students who are learning the craft is a tremendously gratifying experience,” White said.

White, a voice instructor to Kent State music and theatre students, has performed eight seasons with the 12-men acapella ensemble, Chanticleer, in over 40 states and 27 countries.

Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) actor and Kent State alumnus Dylan Ratell, who plays Pseudolus, one of the lead roles, said that his experience working on this show has been a “whirlwind.”

“I have played roles on Broadway and on tour, but have never played a role of this size before,” Ratell said.

Becoming comfortable with the show and keeping it fresh every performance are some of the challenges of his role, Ratell said.

“Of course, I did the normal things: learn the lines, learn the songs, etc., but the biggest challenge has been becoming so comfortable with the material that I can make it look easy and like it’s happening new, in real time, every night,” Ratell said. “It’s a big challenge, but very rewarding if it can be pulled off correctly.”

Ratell said that people should come see the show to experience the feeling of community that the theatre brings and also because the musical doesn’t take itself too seriously.

“It is a trade and a true comedy,” Ratell said. “It knows what it is and it doesn’t try to be something it’s not. In a world where we have so much to worry about, it is important to take time away just to laugh.”

Porthouse Theatre’s  “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” will run June 9 through June 24 at Porthouse Theatre in Akron.

Aden Graves is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]