BWW Reviews: FORUM Proves A Timely - And Timeless - Season Offering at The Keeton Theatre
Silly, fun and farcical, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum is a delightful musical theater diversion, certain to entertain and delight. Brought to the stage in a Keeton Theatre production directed by Kate Adams, with music direction by Ginger Newman, the Stephen Sondheim- Burt Shevelove-Larry Gelbart confection packs as much of a laugh-filled wallop in 2012 as it did when it first premiered on Broadway almost 50 years ago, proving that a well-written and conceived show just never grows old.
With a score that’s filled with musical theater hits—“Comedy Tonight,” “Love I Hear,” “Free” and “Everybody Ought to Have A Maid” top the list—and classic comic characters who deliver some of the funniest one-liners (even the ones that are groaningly bad—but in a good way!) you’re going to hear in the theater, you’d expect companies to be lining up to present their own versions of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, as often as they’re throwing a curly red wig on a kid and calling her Annie or sending in the Nazis to ferret out a band of singing Austrian tots.
But somehow the theatrical gods have conspired to ensure that when the show is put up (wherever that may be) it is a welcome addition to anyone’s theater-going schedule. In fact, you tend to forget just how great the show can really be until you’re sitting there in the dark, chuckling knowingly, wincing at the bad puns and singing along with the enduring showtunes that set the piece apart from many of the traditional musical theater chestnuts that are offered up season after season.
While the show has had numerous Broadway revivals and it has proven to be a staple in the repertoires of regional and community theater groups, …Forum isn’t produced so often that you noticeably cringe at the mention of its name. Instead, you’re fairly certain a good time is in store and, if you’re really lucky, you’ll be treated to a production that will knock your socks off.
With the production now onstage at The Larry Keeton Theatre, you’ll find yourself somewhere in the middle of those two extremes as Adams, Newman and company manage to find a happy medium, delivering a production that is at times a sheer delight, at others only amusing—but, perhaps most importantly, they provide you with a whole lot of fun, delivered by a skilled cast and crew determined to make the most of their time in the comedic spotlight.
Certainly, “Comedy Tonight” has to be one of the theater’s most engaging opening numbers: It sets up the play’s whole premise, introduces the band of merrymakers and celebrates everything that a good musical comedy is all about. You can’t help but find yourself eagerly anticipating what is to follow: Sondheim’s winning melodies and clever lyrics, the crackling wit of Shevelove and Gelbart’s deliciously pun-heavy book and some strong comic turns by local actors you’ve come to love and respect over the years.
RandAl Cooper leads this particular off-kilter band of mischief-makers in the central role of Pseudolus, the Roman slave who hungers for his freedom and who is given the chance to win his release from a lifetime of servitude if only he can help his master win the love of a comely young courtesan who happens to live next door. Cooper gives a strong performance as Pseudolus, with a focus made all the more winning by his gorgeous voice—in fact, it may well be his voice that truly sets his portrayal apart; we’ve never heard a better-voiced Pseudolus.
Cooper is paired with J.T. Landry, who very nearly steals the show as the anything-but-calm Hysterium, the riotously funny slave-in-chief in the home of Roman senator Senex (played to the hilt with stentorian bluster by Scott Stewart), his wife, Domina (the gorgeous Cat Arnold is the harridan in flowing white robes) and their son Hero (the honey-voiced Jonathan Perry, who proves himself once again an actor of tremendous versatility).
Hero’s heart is all aflutter with the initial pangs of true love for the courtesan Philia (Tara LaHue) who toils in the employ of Marcus Lycus (Michael Rex), a “procurer of women” who has sold the virgin to the towering and imposing Roman military hero Miles Gloriosus (David Arnold ably struts about with macho zeal and its requisite over-confidence in his wonderfully showy take on the role) thus inciting all the wicked and wacky goings-on in the neighborhood as Pseudolus struggles to win Philia over to his master in order to gain his own freedom.