A Funny Thing Still Funny After All These Years
By Amy J. Barry
Despite such terribly sexist numbers as “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” and “The House of Marcus Lycus,” in which courtesans are paraded for sale like livestock, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum has a way of staying fresh and funny regardless of it’s age—it opened on Broadway in 1962. For the most part, the Goodspeed revival, directed and choreographed by Ted Pappas with musical direction by Michael O’Flaherty, does it justice.
Maybe the fact that the musical is set in Ancient Rome helps it maintain its timeless appeal—one expects the costumes to be out of date—combined with the bitingly clever book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart and Steven Sondheim’s so-smart lyrics.
A comedy of errors and mistaken identities, lampooning everyone and everything, A Funny Thing Happened is best known for it’s upbeat opening number, “A Comedy Tonight” that introduces the ensuing story.
Psuedolus the slave—the role made so famous by Zero Mostel—plots to gain his freedom by helping Hero, his master’s son, get Philia, the pretty dumb blonde virgin of his dreams by tricking Marcus Lycus, who has promised the fair maiden to the larger-than-life Captain Miles Gloriosus. But of course, pretty much everything that can, goes wrong.
Adam Heller’s comic timing is perfectly pitched in the central role of Pseudolus with his husky Catskills, New York-accent, reminiscent of Mostel, although he’s a much smaller fellow, even funnier in contrast to the lovesick goofball Hero, played by the truly statuesque, chiseled-featured Sam Pinkleton clad in a tiny toga.
There is much frenetic action between the three houses of Senex, Marcus Lycus, and Erronius—and all the performers play their absurd roles to the hilt with many slamming doors and disguises. Emily Thompson plays a satisfactory if not standout Philia and Nat Chandler has the physical stature and Dudley Do Right straight man delivery required of Miles Gloriosus. David Wohl as Hero’s father Senex is particularly funny. Even when he doesn’t say anything, his rubber-faced expressions are a crack-up.
The set by James Noone is atypically static for a Goodspeed production—three colorful but unmoving house facades in both acts. Perhaps the idea is to put more focus on the physical comedy between the actors than on the scenery. Martha Bromelmeier’s over-the-top costumes liven things up and Mark Adam Rampmeyer must be acknowledged for his outrageous hair and wig designs—particularly the do on Mary Gutzi, who plays the overbearing Domina, wife of Senex, with aplomb.
Besides “Comedy Tonight,” “Lovely” is the only other memorable song from the show, sung in a sweet duet between Hero and Philia in Act I, and in Act II it’s reprised and upstaged by Heller as Pseudolus and John Scherer as the hysterical Hysterium in drag as Philia.
As ridiculous as it all is, no matter how much one tries to resist, A Funny Thing Happened… still tickles the funny bone. And Goodspeed brings its usual polished professionalism to the production.
A Funny Thing Happened… is at The Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam through Nov. 29. For tickets and schedule of performances, call the box office at 860-873-8668 or online visit www.goodspeed.org <http://www.goodspeed.org> .
This review was published in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers on Nov. 5, 2009.