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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Williamstown Theatre Festival

Also see Fred's interview with Jessica Stone about this production

Forum
Christopher Fitzgerald
The opening number, "Comedy Tonight," an all-time winner, catapults Williamstown Theatre Festival's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum to madcap heights. The show, which continues on the main stage through July 11th, is an instant tour de force for Christopher Fitzgerald, who plays a slave named Pseudolus (also the evening's impresario). Taken as separate entity, the initial production piece is an enticement unto itself.

Jessica Stone, directing her first major musical, provides vision, imagination and flair as she has cast this Forum with an all male contingent. Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for the original version which opened in New York in 1962. Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart provide the book, and it's all based upon more than a few farces penned by Maccius Plautus who lived from 254-184 BCE in Rome.

Set designer Alexander Dodge is at his creative peak even before the play begins, as it might appear that someone is sketching upon a front stage floor-to-ceiling scrim. When that curtain lifts, we see before our eyes three houses (in ancient Rome) each of which is highlighted with gold, red or blue columns. Catherine A. Parrott's costuming, throughout, is a joy to behold. Men wear varying dress-like outfits, each getup more rib-tickling than the last. Denis Jones' choreography, from the opening moment, is sharp and crisp. Gary Adler conducts a large orchestra which is situated beneath the stage. Throughout, Fitzgerald, agile and nifty, oftentimes sets the pace as others, always in step, keep the proceedings moving.

Here's the plotline: Pseudolus will do most anything to become a free man and this includes buying his emancipation from his owner Hero (Bryce Pinkham). Hero's parents include Senex (Jeremy Shamos), who isn't young but has eyes for a body which appeals to him, and Domina (Chivas Michael), who is tough, nasty, and not quite the sweetest thing in Rome. Domina is truly absurd. Hero is completely smitten with and by Philia (David Turner), who is a virgin—much is made of this. Meanwhile, Captain Miles Gloriosus (Graham Rowat), just a tad on the macho side, seeks to claim Philia. She has been property in the house of Marcus Lycus (David Costabile).

At the center of it all is Pseudolus, who is Mack Sennett-like: clever, tricky and absolutely poised in front of an audience. Fitzgerald spends a fair portion of his time running about, which requires a neat combination of energy and timing. Late in the production, he pulls out further stops with mugging, gesturing, and even buffoonery.

The slave of the almost dirty-old-man Senex and suitably named Domina is Hysterium (Josh Grisetti). Grisetti is physically pliable and on the mark with each comic moment. Fitzgerald, Grisetti, Shamos and Costabile mix voices and antics for a most entertaining rendering of "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid." Just before, Philia (Turner) and Hero (Pinkham) score with "Lovely." Not to be ignored are the versatile contributions provided by Paul Castree, Jon Patrick Walker, Zackary Grady, Adam Lerman and Joe Aaron Reid, who are cast as Proteans. Some of these actors have other roles as well. And there's Kevin Cahoon whose aged Erronius walks through the stage every so often.

The second and shorter act includes some terrific vaudeville and additional talent show stuff as the actors take bows; and a reprise of "Comedy Tonight." In the end, there's a happy resolution. Once upon a time, writers and thinkers claimed they derived some philosophical import while watching Forum. I left the theater in a an ecstatic mood and have not yet pondered one implication or ramification.

This show is a summertime treat and serves as a magnificent vehicle for highly trained and impressively disciplined actors. Jessica Stone, previously known as a top level actor with many Broadway and WTF credits to her name, has taken a risk with her direction by assigning roles more typically played by women to men. The resultant comedy on this night is diverting, silly, witty, and absolutely a hoot.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum continues at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts through July 11th. For ticket information, call (413) 597-3400 or visit wtfestival.org.


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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