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BWW Reiews: Lyric Music Theater Delivers Laughs on Way to Forum

Lyric Music Theater of South Portland presents a rollicking production of Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, enlivened by the excellent performances of its leads, the cheeky choreography of Victoria Perreault, and the fast-paced direction of Mary Meserve and John Blanchette.

The 1966 Tony-award winning musical which starred Zero Mostel is an excellent example of early Sondheim music and lyrics with a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart based on the Roman comedies of Plautus. The humor is predictably broad, filled with mistaken identities, keystone cops chases, and a fair amount of vaudeville thrown in for good measure. Still, if one listens, the unmistakably sophisticated Sondheim lyrics are there along with infectious tunes that are sendups of familiar Broadway genres.

Once again Lyric Theater mounts an attractive, elaborate production. Mary Meserve and John Blanchette keep the action moving, the comedy expansive yet inventive, and the implausibility of the plot charmingly predictable. Music Director Rebecca Carron conducts the five-person ensemble with sprightly verve and elicits a well-balanced acoustic between the orchestra in the balcony and stage, while Victoria Perreault creates colorful choreography and obtains some credible performances from the actors. Most notable are the witty solos for the four courtesans and the lively company opening and finale.

Steve Lupien's décor, attractively painted by scenic artist Stacy Koloski, consists of the facades of three houses and a few simple benches, which serve admirably for the rapid shifts in action. Louise Keezer provides the cast with glittering versions of Roman togas and flowing gowns, and Susan Finch adds a colorful and fanciful lighting palette to the mix.

No matter how good the supporting cast, Forum hangs on the virtuosity of its protagonist, Pseudolus, and Zack Handlen does not disappoint. Possessed of a robust, secure voice that can both belt and deliver a smooth melody, he romps through the unforgettable opening, "Comedy Tonight" and goes on to rivet audience attention with his infectiously nimble physical presence and comic timing. John Ambrose makes an endearing Hysterium, and his clear tenor is musical and agile. Joel Crowley is a winning Hero, delightfully naïve and goofy, a lanky overgrown boy in the throes of first love, and he sings lyrically making the most of the love duet with Phila, "Lovely."

Kevin Reams brings the physical and declamatory stature to Miles Gloriosus, but is a little overparted in his big vocal number, "Bring Me My Bride." Bethany Perkins possesses a lovely, if somewhat small, classically trained lyric soprano, which she uses with musical taste, and she cuts the perfect figure of the dim beauty. As Domina, Hero's mother, Jennine Cannizzo is an amusing shrew and she stylishly delivers her throaty cabaret number, "That Dirty Old Man."

David Heath is appropriately lecherous as Senex; Jeff Campbell makes a gullible, helpless Marcus Lycus; Henrik Strandskov proveds the running gag of the blind old Erronius, and the four courtesans, Andrea Carr as Tintinabula, Lucy Bangor as Gymnasia, Jillian Lovejoy as Panacea, and Dana Tripp as Vibrata etch excellent cameos. The cast is completed by Kim Drisko and MJ Emerson as the Geminae and the amusing male trio of Proteans, Craig Capone, Andrew Goodwin, and Garrett Kieren.

This Sondheim production follows on the heels of last season's stunning Into the Woods. It is no small feat for this sixty-two year-old community theatre to mount another of the great Broadway icon's works with such style and panache!

Photos Courtesy of Lyric Music Theater, photographer Audra Hatch

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum runs from April 17-May 2, 2015 at Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer Street, South Portland ME 207-799-1421

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