Washington actor Floyd King is a man of a thousand zany expressions, all of them employed to perfection in the Signature Theater's hysterical revival of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." Gary Griffin has staged an overtly bawdy production.

Washington actor Floyd King is a man of a thousand zany expressions, all of them employed to perfection in the Signature Theater’s hysterical revival of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Gary Griffin has staged an overtly bawdy production.

The versatile King, a member of D.C.’s Shakespeare Theater (as well as a professor at Juilliard and George Washington U.), clearly earns the star billing he’s been given by Signature, where he makes his first appearance as the delightfully opportunistic slave Pseudolus. His sublime performance is epitomized by his delivery of Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart’s delicious line, dryly intoned while sipping a cup of wine: “Was 1 a good year?”

“Forum” is one of the few Stephen Sondheim musicals the 14-year-old Signature has not produced, and the availability of King makes it worth the wait. Indeed, it’s a show that rides predominantly on the quality of the vaudeville shtick delivered by its principals. In this case, the entire company delivers.

Griffin, who directed an acclaimed staging of Sondheim’s “Pacific Overtures” recently seen at London’s prestigious Donmar Warehouse, is making his D.C.-area directorial debut. He reaches unabashedly for the depths in this hyperkinetic display of low comedy and Borscht Belt antics. An obsession with breasts and other body parts, and a beefy dominatrix among the courtesans, are a few of his touches.

Other key members of the cast include Harry A. Winter as Senex; Buzz Mauro as the slave Hysterium; and Christopher Bloch as Lycus, owner of the house of ill repute next door. All are enjoyably lascivious, especially during big tongue-in-cheek number “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid.”

Shaun MacLaughlin is the picture of innocence as son Hero, while Christopher Flint is fine as the high-testosterone Miles Gloriosus. Signature regular Steven Cupo gets laughs as the near-sighted Erronius.

Another pleasant surprise is the performance of Lauren Williams as Philia, the brainlessly coy courtesan-in-waiting. Williams, a junior music theater major at Catholic U. who turned out for an open casting call in the spring, adroitly finesses the role of the musical’s principal love interest, and nails her big solo number, “That’ll Show Him.”

Lou Stancari’s quirky Roman street offers just the right number of entrances and balconies to keep the action flowing, while Karma Camp’s lively choreography helps showcase Sondheim’s engaging score.

This is Signature’s most satisfying production in some time.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Signature Theater, Arlington, Va.; 120 seats; $42 top

Production

A Signature Theater presentation of a musical in two acts with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. Directed by Gary Griffin.

Creative

Sets, Lou Stancari; costumes, Timm Burrow; lighting, Mike Daniels; choreography, Karma Camp. Opened, reviewed Nov. 2, 2003. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.

Cast

Pseudolus - Floyd King Senex - Harry A. Winter Domina - Donna Migliaccio Hero - Sean MacLaughlin Hysterium - Buzz Mauro Lycus - Christopher Bloch Philia - Lauren Williams Miles Gloriosus - Christopher Flint
With: David Covington, Stephen Gregory Smith, R. Scott Thompson, Tryphena Wade, Kara-Tameika Watkins, Amanda Johnson, Tammy Roberts, Kristi Ambrosetti, Sandra L. Murphy, Steven Cupo.

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