×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

The farcical structure of Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart's book is as sound as ever.

With:
Pseudolus - Lee Wilkof Hysterium - Larry Raben Senex - Ron Orbach Domina - Ruth Williamson Hero - Erich Bergen Philia - Annie Abrams Marcus Lycus - Michael Kostroff Erronius - Alan Mandell Miles Gloriosus - Stuart Ambrose

As the East Coast rolls out its star-studded Sondheim galas and big-ticket revivals, L.A. is enjoying a more modest 80th birthday bash with a revival of the master’s first solo Broadway score, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” The farcical structure of Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart’s book is as sound as ever, and whether it’s the first time you’ve seen “Forum” or the umpty-umpth, there are delights to be found throughout the Reprise Theater Company production.

Sondheim’s score, smoothly directed by Steve Orich, offers only hints of the complex melodies and rhyming and rhythmic flights to come. Still it’s wholly pleasing, alternately muscular and dainty as the moment requires. Reprise even offers rediscovery, with two numbers interpolated from the 1972 Gotham version with Phil Silvers: a diva turn for monstrous matron Domina (Ruth Williamson, splendid) and a truly funny duet for ingenues Hero and Philia (Erich Bergen, late of L.A.’s “Jersey Boys,” and Annie Abrams).

Ancient scribe Plautus was the libretto’s inspiration but its soul is ancient burlesque, helmer David Lee having assembled the requisite old troupers to pull off that art form’s innocent lewdness: Lee Wilkof as scheming slave Pseudolus, abetted by nervous-Nellie Larry Raben; Michael Kostroff as the sleazy pimp next door to randy old goat Ron Orbach.

As good as they are — and Raben is particularly so — the junior contingent runs away with this “Forum.” If it takes a smart actor to portray a dumb character, Bergen and Abrams must be the smartest thesps in town. Totally sweet and winning, they land jokes and physical reactions that have escaped generations of Heros and Philias, and sell the numbers with unexpected touches of whimsy.

Whimsical is the word for the three youthful Proteans as well, carrying off dozens of roles with the switch of a hat or shmatte. Led by the hilariously towering, marionette-built-of-pipe cleaners Matthew Patrick Davis, Russ Marchand and Justin Wilcox make strong impressions in quick strokes.

And younger than springtime is the oldest cast member, Alan Mandell, a joyous Mr. Magoo as the hapless Erronius.

The well-cast Wilkof seemed off on opening night, with several line fumbles and a sense of riding on sheer willpower by act two. And the climactic chase lacked hellzapoppin brio; some underscoring, even a piano tinkling “Comedy Tonight,” would help.

Peggy Hickey contributes witty choreography — daddies of all ages will applaud the athletic cavalcade of courtesans in buy-me mode — and the show looks great in Kate Bergh’s mock-ancient garb and Jared Sayeg’s circussy lighting, though Bradley Kaye’s three adjacent houses seem somewhat characterless.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Freud Playhouse, UCLA; 562 seats; $75 top

Production: A Reprise Theater Company presentation of a musical in two acts with book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Directed by David Lee. Choreography, Peggy Hickey. Musical director, Steve Orich.

Creative: Sets, Bradley Kaye; costumes, Kate Bergh; lighting, Jared A. Sayeg; sound, Philip G. Allen; production stage manager, Jill Gold. Opened, reviewed Mar. 17, 2010; runs through Mar. 28. Running time: 2 HR, 25 MIN.

Cast: Pseudolus - Lee Wilkof Hysterium - Larry Raben Senex - Ron Orbach Domina - Ruth Williamson Hero - Erich Bergen Philia - Annie Abrams Marcus Lycus - Michael Kostroff Erronius - Alan Mandell Miles Gloriosus - Stuart AmbroseWith: Bradley Benjamin, Matthew Patrick Davis, Meg Gillentine, Tonya Kay, Laura Keller, Mercy Malick, Russ Marchand, Candy Olsen, Justin Michael Wilcox.

More Legit

  • Beetlejuice review

    Broadway Review: 'Beetlejuice'

    “Such a bold departure from the original source material!” wisecracks the odd-looking fellow sitting on a coffin at the start of the Broadway musical “Beetlejuice.” The weird, nasty and outrageous title character is talking about a short lament just sung by a sad teen at her mother’s gravesite, as he breaks the fourth wall (“Holy [...]

  • Playwright Mark Medoff author of "Children

    Mark Medoff, 'Children of a Lesser God' Playwright, Dies at 79

    Mark Medoff, the playwright who wrote Tony Award-winning play “Children of a Lesser God,” died Tuesday in Las Cruces, N.M. He was 79. His daughter Jessica Medoff Bunchman posted news of his death on Facebook, and the Las Cruces Sun-News attributed the cause to cancer. “Children of a Lesser God” starred John Rubinstein and Phyllis Frelich [...]

  • Ink review

    Broadway Review: 'Ink' With Jonny Lee Miller

    Garish, lurid and brash, “Ink,” the British import now on Broadway in a Manhattan Theatre Club production, is the theatrical equivalent of its subject, the UK’s Daily Sun — the newspaper that reshaped British journalism and propelled Rupert Murdoch’s ascent to media mogul. Like the tabloid, it feels unsubstantial, rushed and icky. You can’t say [...]

  • All My Sons review

    London Theater Review: 'All My Sons' With Sally Field, Bill Pullman

    If “All My Sons” is showing its age, it sure shows no signs of abating. Just days after a major revival opened on Broadway, moving Annette Bening and Tracy Letts into the Tony zone, up the play pops in London. The Old Vic has arguably secured the starrier cast, too: Bill Pullman and Sally Field [...]

  • Tootsie review

    Broadway Review: 'Tootsie'

    The new Broadway adaptation of “Tootsie” is old-fashioned and proud of it — and it’s a surefire crowd-pleaser, in this musical spin on the 1982 film comedy with Santino Fontana in the Dustin Hoffman role. Robert Horn (book) and Tony-winner David Yazbek (score) have a high old time poking fun at theatrical rituals — the [...]

  • Kelli O'Hara

    Listen: How Kelli O'Hara Brings #MeToo to 'Kiss Me, Kate'

    “Kiss Me, Kate” is one of the best-known titles in musical theater. But in this day and age, the “Taming of the Shrew”-inspired comedy’s depiction of the gender dynamic seems downright, well, problematic. Listen to this week’s podcast below: Kelli O’Hara is well aware of that, and so were her collaborators on the Roundabout Theatre [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content