Regional Reviews: Seattle
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Forum at the 5th Avenue Theatre
Also see David's review of Living Out
There's nothing like starting the year off with a good laugh and/or a Sondheim song, and luckily the 5th Avenue's boisterous production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Forum provides both. Veteran New York director Phillip George (Forbidden Broadway, When Pigs Fly) shows off his considerable comic know-how in staging Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart's totally un-PC farce, and has cast many of Seattle's most solid scene-stealers in pivotal roles.
Shevelove and Gelbart's take on Plautus' tale of the slave Pseudolus and his willingness to do anything to achieve freedom has been essayed by such comic legends as Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Nathan Lane, and even Whoopi Goldberg, and Seattle's David Scully is as comically satisfying as you could wish, possessing a bit more heart and warmth than is the norm for the character, which makes us root for his success all the more.
As Senex, Pseudolus's henpecked master, Jeff Steitzer fits like a glove, using every vaudevillian shtick in his repertoire. Even Steitzer's being wheelchair bound - due to an opening week injury - is of scant concern (especially with choreographer Stephen Reed on hand to pilot the chair with supportive zeal). As his battle axe wife, Suzy Hunt makes a formidable comic foil despite less onstage time and the song "That Dirty Old Man," which is one of the score's weaker efforts.
Timothy McCuen Piggee's performance as the preening and arrogant Army captain Miles Gloriosus is an utter hoot and he shows off a singing voice which has become more impressive than ever (boding well for his next assignment as Don Quixote in Village Theatre's Man of La Mancha. John Procaccino, not seen in a musical in recent recollection, is quirkily hilarious as flesh peddler Marcus Lycus, whose "wares" include a saucy Kathryn Van Meter as the feline femme fatale Vibrata and a well-paired Bridgette Graf and Amanda Paulson as the Geminae Twins.
As Philia, the virgin courtesan in training, Billie Wildrick strikes the right note in her characterization of a naïve seductress and vocally shines in both her solo "That'll Show Him" and on her "Lovely" duet with Tom Plotkin, who unfortunately falters in a Keanu Reeves surfer dude portrayal of Hero. Veteran comic actor R. Hamilton Wright seems oddly ill at ease as Pseudolus' ninny of a cohort Hysterium, though he comes through in his drag turn opposite Scully for the "Lovely" reprise. The incredibly hard working trio of Richard Gray, Greg Michael Allen, and Marc delaCruz play an assortment of minor roles (eunuchs, soldiers, and slaves) with major zeal and sharp timing, with the rubber-faced and ebullient Gray leading the pack.
Musical director Joel Fram conducts a dandy sounding orchestra and has made sure the sublime Sondheim lyrics are never lost on the audience. Stephen Reed's choreography is sprightly throughout and joyously jaunty when Steitzer, Scully, Wright and Procaccino strut through "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid." The mood establishing "Comedy Tonight," however, reverts wisely to an out and out reproduction of Jerome Robbins' lauded original Broadway staging. Lynda L. Salsbury has costumed the show with flair, blending well with Jeffrey Cook's colorfully cartoony sets.
The show does have its saggy moments, notably in act two just prior to a blissful full-cast chase scene that out Marxes the Marx Brothers, but in general A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Forum proves as genial an entertainment as ever, though the PC police might just as well stay home.A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Forum plays at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Avenue, through February 1. For further information visit the 5th Avenue on-line at www.5thavenuetheatre.org. - David-Edward Hughes