A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
nytheatre.com review by Lynn Marie Macy
March 25, 2011
The revival of A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Forum bursts onto the stage at Paper Mill Playhouse with an explosion of color, enthusiasm, and song. And with book by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove and music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, you know you are in for an entertaining evening.
Forum first opened on Broadway in 1962 and received a number of Tonys including Best Musical, Best Director, Best Book, and the Best Actor award for Zero Mostel as Pseudolus. Director Mark Waldrop has gathered together a terrific new cast lead by Paul C. Vogt as Pseudolus, the clever and enterprising slave belonging to the house of Senex.
The story (inspired by the comedies of Plautus) follows the shenanigans of wily Pseudolus and his young master Hero. Hero is in love with Philia, the virgin next door in the disreputable house of Marcus Lycus, but this newly arrived courtesan has already been sold to Captain Miles Gloriosus who is on his way to claim her. Hero promises Pseudolus his freedom if he can get him the girl. What ensues of course is a series of farcical slamming doors, mistaken identities, cross-dressing, and close calls.
Vogt as Pseudolus is appealing and comical, his winning energy never wanes and we root for his frenetic schemes to land him on top. Justin Bowen as Hero and Chelsea Krombach as Philia are delightfully matched. Bowen’s earnest naïveté and Krombach’s wide-eyed vacant smile make use of every comic opportunity. Hero’s father Senex is played by Greg Vinkler, who is a riot as the henpecked yet desperately lecherous Senex. Beth McVey is perfectly cast as the overbearing wife and mother Domina. And the scene-stealing John Scherer is hilarious as the jittery Hysterium, slave to Senex and Domina. The shifty Marcus Lycus, buyer and seller of courtesans, is played by Stephen Berger with slippery amusement. Stephen R. Buntrock takes on Miles Gloriosus with bombastic aplomb. And the hilarious Chet Carlin is a stitch as the ancient Erronius who seeks his kidnapped twins throughout the Empire.
The talented ensemble is rounded out by the lovely Kristine Bendul, Chondra L. Profit, Anne Otto, Lara Siebert, Kristine Convillo, and Liz McKendry as the somewhat frightening (though extremely flexible) courtesans, and Ryan Dietz, Michael Timothy Howell, and Bret Shuford do exemplary slapstick work as the Proteans who take on any number of eunuchs, slaves, and pirates.
Musical highlights include “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” sung by Senex, Pseudolus, Lycus, and Hysterium, “Lovely,” comically intoned by Philia and Hero, and “I’m Calm,” nervously warbled by Hysterium.
All this clowning around is kept neatly on track by director Mark Waldrop. The cartoon-like set by Ray Klausen and costumes by Matthew Hemesath are particularly wonderful. The blast of bright and beautiful springtime color is a treat for the eyes after such a cold and grey winter season. And the lighting by F. Mitchell Dana gives everything a warm glow.
Sadly, Vince Pesce’s choreography is not as creative nor cleanly executed as could be wished—particularly in the show's opener “Comedy Tonight,” which was slightly disappointing. But the pace and passion pick up from there and the seasoned cast runs away with this classic ode to vaudeville.