by Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle
“No royal curse, no Trojan Horse…..and there’s a happy ending, of course”! These lyrics are part of the rollicking opening musical number “Comedy Tonight” which aptly describes “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum,” now playing at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam through November 29.
The madcap burlesque-style show, a revival of the Broadway hit that was a sensation forty-five years ago, is derived from three comic plays written by Titus Maccius Plautus in 254 B.C.!
Writers Bert Shevelove and Larry Gelbart took these works, partnered with Steven Sondheim who wrote words and music, and made madcap musical-comedy history.
And, true to those opening lyrics, there is little of any serious nature in this purely entertaining romp. “Nothing of kings, nothing of crowns…..bring on the lovers, liars and clowns” sings the entire company, instigated by indefatigable lead actor Adam Heller as Pseudolus, the manic slave who is desperate to purchase his freedom.
In the style of burlesque’s baggy-pants comics, this cast consists of clowns in baggy-togas, Roman concubines dressed in nearly-nothing, and a bunch of amusing “tumblers, grumblers, fumblers, and bumblers.”
There’s the cute, lanky Hero, played by Sam Pinkleton, who’s in love with the lovely, winsome
Philia – sung by the equally lovely Emily Thompson.
The zany antics of bigger-than-life actor Ron Wisniski as Marcus Lycus the pimp of Ancient Rome, and the wacky madness of Mark Baker’s Erronius, John Scherer’s Hysterium, and David Wohl’s Senex are truly the stuff that comedy is made of! These stage veterans know how to connect with an audience, and even get a chance to talk directly to the audience with silly ad lib- like – “laugh now folks, these are the jokes!”
The colorful and functional set design by James Noone of a Roman street complete with three houses easily fills the stage with all the windows and doors, entrances and exits that a farce requires.
The concubines live in one house with the virgin Philia and the procurer Lycus; the Hero and his mother, Domina (Mary Gutzi) and father Senex live in another; and the third is the abandoned home of the absent Erronius, who’s gone out into the world searching for his children kidnapped by pirates. Pirates? (We told you it was zany).
Playing many roles are a ditzy trio called the Proteans (Jason Babinsky, Kurt Domoney, and Steve Konopelski), who accessorize their basic costumes to become eunuchs, praetorian guards, slaves, boatmen, townsfolk and maidens, all while singing and dancing up a storm.
And did we mention the concubines? Each of these endowed showgirls does a wiggly turn, and deserves to be showcased by name: Semhar Ghebremichael as Panacea, Laura Keller as Gymnasia, Kara Kimmer as Vibrata, Stephanie Lynn Nelson as Tintinabula, and Abbey O’Brien and Krita Saab as the twins, Geminae. Michael Biren and Emily Susanne Franklin are the swings in the show.
Booming-voiced Nat Chandler as Miles Gloriosus, just returned to Rome from plundering and pillaging Crete, rounds out the cast of characters.
Conductor Michael O’Flaherty, who doubles on keyboard, keeps the pace lively and the score vibrant.
Martha Bromelmeier’s costumes embrace the eighteen actors in brilliant colors and flowing fabrics, while Kirk Bookman’s lighting keeps the street-scene wrapped in dazzling sunlight throughout.
For the original Broadway production in 1962, Tony Walton did both the costume and scenic design. On the night that we saw “A Funny Thing….” Tony and his wife, playwright Gen LeRoy were sitting a few seats away from us, and seemed to enjoy this current revival as much as the rest of the audience.
As the score suggests, there is something for everyone in this Goodspeed Musicals’ latest offering. Ted Pappas directs and choreographs the cast to get the most laughter out of each line and movement. There is exuberance and manic motion in every scene, and the in-and-out-of –doors-and-windows action is exceedingly fast-paced and adds to the merriment of the show.
With the gloom and doom of headlines every day, it’s refreshing to just escape from the real world for a while and enjoy a confection of a musical that offers nothing but fun and laughter.
“A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” is the perfect antidote for all your cares and woes.
Forget drama, forget reality, just get to Goodspeed, sit back and enjoy the silly fact that it’s just a fun-filled “Comedy Tonight!”
The musical plays through November 29. Order your tickets now at www.goodspeed.org, or phone the box office at (860) 873-8668.