Monday, September 18, 2006

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum (Great Lakes Theatre Festival)

‘FUNNY THING’ is a very funny thing at GLTF

The program for Great Lakes Theatre Festival’s ‘A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM’ asks the question, “What is funny?” The answer, at least in Cleveland for the next five weeks is, ‘A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.”

‘FORUM’ is a musical based on two plays by Titus Marrius Plautus, who is considered to be the father of comedy in the Western world. It was Plautus who invented the devices of theatrical comedy which have lasted to this very day. Most of his techniques, such as prat falls, cross-gendered misidentities, visual double takes, having characters who are bigger than life, makes the audience laugh at them and their actions rather than with them. It’s the kind of stuff that made Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and the Three Stooges funny.

The story follows Plautus’ standard structure. While the Master and Mistress are away, sons and slaves will play. In this case, Pseudolus, a slave who wants to be free, decides to help Hero, the son of Senex and Domina to elope with Philia, a virgin who has been sold to the nation’s greatest warrior. Chaos ensues via comical misadventures, coverups and plot twists.

The book was written by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbert, while the music and lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim. In spite of such wonderful songs as "Free," "Lovely," "Pretty Little Picture," and "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,’ Sondheim’s score was cooly received by critics when the show opened on Broadway in 1962. However, the production’s run of 966 performances is Sondheim’s longest running Big Apple show. The original production starred the
irrepressible Zero Mostel, who was also the lead in a moderately successful 1966 film version.

The script was revived on Broadway in 1972 with Phil Silvers, and again in 1996 with Nathan Lane as Pseudolus. Lane was replaced during the run by Whoopi Goldberg.

Great Lakes Theatre Festival’s production, under the adept directing of Victoria Bussert, is nothing short of hysterical. Bussert and her wonderful cast pull out all the stops. Every shtick and gimmick possible has been incorporated into the happenings. To add to the doings is the fine musical direction of John Jay Espino, the creative choreography of Janet Louer, Jeff Herman’s traditional scenic design and Nicole Frachiseur’s era correct creative costumes.

Usually, the role of Pseudolus is the key role in this play. However, as good as Tom Ford is in that role in this production, he is overshadowed by Jeffrey C. Hawkins whose Hysterium is hysterical! It’s worth the price of admission to see Hawkins in action.

Also adding to the laugh-fest is Dudley Swetland as Erronius, a doddering old man; Laura Perrotta as Domina, an overbearing wife and a woman with implants gone bad; Aled Davies, Hero’s father and sex-obsessed husband of Domina; and Scott Plate as Miles Gloriosis,
a pompous warrior. As the star-crossed lovers, Matt Lillo and Kate Rockwell are fine. Their “Lovely” was a smile inducer. Credit also must be given to Wilson Bridges, Dougfred Miller and M. A. Taylor, the omnipresent clowns whose roles vary from eunuchs to soldiers.

Highlights include the opening number, “Comedy Tonight,” the show-stopping ”Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” and the delightful “Lovely Reprise.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: GLTF’s “A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM,” is a laugh delight. It’s the kind of production that audience members will totally
enjoy. Congrats to Victoria Bussert and her cast and crew for a wonderful production.