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Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

A Funny thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Manatee Players

Also see William's review of The Heidi Chronicles

Mike Nolan
The Manatee Players say goodbye to the Riverfront Theater after 60 years, heading a few blocks east to a brand new theater that has been almost five years in the making with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum by Stephen Sondheim, Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. This is one of my favorite musicals, possibly one of the greatest ever written. Theater mavens all acknowledge the hilarity of the book but tend to overlook the quality of Sondheim's score. A Funny Thing ... was his first full score (music and lyrics) to reach Broadway and already some of what are now referred to as "Sondheimisms" are here: the onomatopoeia, repeated words starting with the same letter (the bong of the bell on the buoy in the bay), and the long lists of rhymes that end "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid." Besides the best known "Comedy Tonight," highlights include "Lovely," "Pretty Little Picture," "That'll Show Him" and "That Dirty Old Man."

Director/Choreographer Bob Trisolini has put together a strong production, strongest on the musical end, not as tight on the farcical elements of the comedy. Musical numbers all are well staged, the funeral sequence in particular is beautifully done. In scenes involving characters arriving and departing rapidly, there is too much air between one character's exit and the next one's arrival, which should be simultaneous. Still, much of the comedy does register.

Mike Nolan as Pseudolus gives a warm engaging performance, but I would like to see a little more of the dark, mischievous side, the side that leaves total chaos in his wake wherever he goes. He is one of strongest singers I have ever seen in the part; "Pretty Little Picture" is especially well sung. Jason Ellis continues his marathon season (Chad in Legally Blonde, J. Pierpont Finch in How to Succeed ..., Plaid Tidings) as Hero, singing well and catching the naivete. Opposite him is Caitlin Longstreet, looking beautiful (though her ultra cheap blonde tresses do her no favor) and singing strongly. Together they made "Lovely" and all of their music highlights. Rodd Dyer comes very close to stealing the entire show as Hysterium. Is it possible that only four months ago he was staring as gas station owner L.M. and music director of Pump Boys and Dinettes? This is a strong performance throughout, but especially so in the final sequences when he is dressed as a girl, trying to portray a dead body. I saw Arnold Stang in this role in the touring version of the original production and Mr. Dyer is just about as funny.

Making his musical debut (after playing Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey and Felix in The Odd Couple) is Mark Shoemaker as Senex. If he is unsure of his musical abilities, let me put his mind to rest. His contributions to "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" help make it the showstopper it is intended to be. The audience was poised for one more encore (after three built in reprises). Charles Craig is suitably leering as Marcus Lycus, Denny Miller gets the proper laughs as he traverses the seven hills of Rome, and Jgar Hellwig sings strongly as Miles Gloriosus and cuts a fine figure. Hunter Brown, Dr. Will Horton and William Leo Williams do yeoman's work as the Proteans, cavorting nimbly throughout. When was the last time a Dr. was featured as a low clown? Meg Newsome as Domina acts the part well, showing both the shrewish and loving sides, but does not do justice to her song, "That Dirty Old Man," one of my favorites.

Cheryl S.Gutner, Sharon Bartley, Emman Slotabec, Erika Quartuccio, Alina Evans and Sarah Harrington were fine as the various courtesans.

The six-man orchestra, under the direction of Bobby Brader, keeps tempos lively, allowing Sondheim's use of dance rhythms (the beguine for "Lovely," tango for "That'll Show Him") to really come through. Special kudos to Production Stage Manager Colin Wence, who has a massive job with this very lively script.

Manatee Players presents A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at The Riverfront Theater through March 17, 2013, 102 12th St W, Bradenton; 941 748-0111,

Prologus/Pseudolus: Mike Nolan
The Proteans: Hunter Brown, Dr. Will Horton, William Leo Williams
Senex: Mark Shoemaker
Domina: Meg Newsome
Hero: Jason Ellis
Hysterium: Rodd Dyer
Lycus: Charles Craig
Tintinabula: Cheryl S. Gutner
Panacea: Sharon Bartley
The Geminae: Emma Slotabec, Erika Quartuccio
Vibrata: Alina Evans
Gymnasia: Sarah Harrington
Philia: Caitlin Longstreet
Erronius: Denny Miller
Miles Gloriosus: Jgar Hellwig

Conductor/Keyboard: Bobby Brader
Second Keyboard: Rebecca Heintz
Trumpet: Victor Mongillo
Reeds: Teri Booth
Trombone: Joe Wolf
Percussion: John Januszewski

Direction/Choreography: Bob Trisolini
Scenery Design: Donna Buckalter
Costume Design: Timothy Beltley
Lighting Design: Ian Mills
Production Stage Manager: Colin Wence

Photo: Thomas Bender/Herald Tribune, used with permission from Manatee Players

--William S. Oser

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