In 1962, the original production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum was struggling in its off broadway try out. Audiences were not turning up and so producer Hal Prince hired director Jerome Robbins to come in and offer some advice to the creative team. Robbins biggest influence in the piece was to scrap the opening number "Love is in the Air" and commission Stephen Sondheim to write a new uptempo tune that introduced the piece as a wild bawdy comedy. "Comedy tonight"'was born and so to the show which went on to win a number of Tony Awards including Best Musical.
Robbins' foresight and Sondheim's musical brilliance combined to create the most memorable number in the show, which proved to be the musical highlight in last nights opening of Forum at Her Majesty's theatre. Starring Geoffrey Rush as Pseudolus the roman slave who sets out to win his freedom by orchestrating the union between young lovers Hero (Hugh Sheridan) and courtesan Phyllia (Christie Whelan-Browne) who has been sold to captain Miles Gloriosus (Adam Murphy).
The over camp farce that ensues is a riotous romp climaxing in the happy ending promised from the outset. On this performance, however, the cast takes its time to hit full stride, appearing particularly nervous, stumbling over lines and tripping over moments which slow the action down, particularly towards the end of Act 1. Come Act II the cast appeared to have settled and their skills came to the fore with characterization overcoming any adversity. What was particularly apparent was Rush's complete craftsmanship as an actor. He had carved a character so strong in its desire for freedom that every fibre and nuance informed this quest. Where others on stage may have used camp for camps sake, Rush's multi-faceted Pseudolous showed that it was anything other than one dimensional. The other stand out performance of the night was Adam Murphy as Miles Gloriosus the captain who comes to claim Phylia after purchasing her from Marcus Lycus (Gerry Connolly). Murphy's characterisation and vocal quality were a highlight of the evening and he provided the perfect formula as the evenings anti-hero
While some performances fluctuate, What is constant and consistent through is the quality of the orchestra under the baton of Matthew Frank with musical supervision from Guy Simpson. The orchestrations are lush and lavish and enhance one of Sondheim's least known scores. Complimenting these orchestrations is a sound design that enhances both actor and musician.
Simon Phillips directs the production emphasising the farce and comedy that the piece so desperately needs and produces in spades thanks to the combination of all theatrical forces working together with synchronicity. Completing the creative force behind this production is Gabriela Tyslova who's design for the production is a particularly stunning combination of Avante Garde and pop-up book.
Geoffrey Rush's comic brilliance is enough for this show to succeed but it does on many levels making it a must see for Melbourne audiences over the coming 12 weeks.