FUNNY THINGS ARE HAPPENING AT GOODSPEED
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
“A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum,” is getting lots of laughter at the Goodspeed Opera House. The fun begins the moment Adam Heller appears in front of a magnificent, purple and red velvet curtain as the colorful “Pseudolus,” the role that was made famous by Zero Mostel when the play appeared on Broadway in 1962, and film in 1966. Heller sets the happy mood while introducing the musical in his opening number, “Comedy Tonight.” He is accompanied by his clownish side kicks, Jason Babinsky, Kurt Domoney and Steve Konopelski. Like the Three Stooges this trio of “Proteans,” jest, juggle, joust and joyously provide much of the marvelous mayhem throughout this lively production.
The musical contains some of the best music and lyrics ever composed by Stephen Sondheim. Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart wrote the book, and it took over four years and numerous re-writes in order to perfect it. Following through, Goodspeed’s production is well timed and choreographed by Ted Pappas after the original work of Jerome Robbins. It was Robbins who finally made this failing show a success by adding the mood-setting opening number. And, it is this carefully worded piece that explains exactly what we are about to see “…something for everyone…tragedy tomorrow comedy tonight!”
“A Funny Thing…” is a parody of comedy throughout the ages. It contains almost everything that might solicit a laugh and at Goodspeed the show is artfully presented. The history of comedy and satire dates back 2,000 years beginning with the Greeks and Romans. The early elements that influenced Commedia dell’art, Shakespeare’s comedies, vaudeville and burlesque are also here. The more you are familiar with theatre history, the more you can identify and enjoy. Like TV’s Jerry Seinfield says, “…this show is about nothing.” Yet all this “nothing” can be summed up by one Yiddish word called “shtick” (a piece, or a poke that tickles your “funny bones”).
“On The Way to the Forum” is mainly about a Roman slave who is plotting to seek his freedom. Taking advantage of every circumstance and human desire, he has the quick-thinking knack of trying to manipulate people to his advantage – with accidental and comic results along the way.
There are three houses that occupy the stage and thanks to set designer, James Noone, they are quaint, colorful, and delightfully suit the musical. The center dwelling belongs to “Senex” (David Wohl), his domineering wife, appropriately named “Domina” (Mary Gutzie) and the couple’s love-stricken son “Hero” (Sam Pinkleton).
Hero is attracted to the virgin “Philia” (Emily Thompson) who is living in the house of prostitution on the left. The owner of this house of ill repute, Marcus Lycus (Ron Wisniski) has sold her to the army captain “Miles Gloriosus” (Nat Chandler). The captain ordered Lycus to keep her until he returns from war.
“Erronius” (Mark Baker) owns the empty house to the right. Pirates stole his twin infants (a boy and a girl) many years earlier. Although he is now hunched-back and grey-bearded, Erronius is still looking for them.
“Pseudolus,” the central character, is a slave/servant in the center house. The head slave of this household is “Hysterium” (John Scherer). Unintentionally, Hysterium keeps getting entangled with his underling’s dealings.
While slave owners Senex and Domina are away, Pseudolus notices Hero’s desire for the lovely virgin next door. Pseudolus seizes the opportunity to arrange to get her for his young master, in exchange for his freedom. What follows is a fast-paced farce. Disguises, swinging doors, gorgeous beauties, sexual innuendos, constant misunderstandings, every hilarious tactic known to the comedy world is employed to get a laugh. Although the rumble is a bit tiresome in Act II and Pinkleton and Thompson lack the starry-eyed luster of true lovers, the audience keeps lapping laughter. As expected, all the chaos ties together in the end – otherwise the audience would never want to leave.
The songs are very entertaining. “Everybody Ought to have a Maid,” animatedly performed by Senex, Pseudolus, Hysterum and Lycus brought strong applause. The characters are lively, the sexy show girls in costumes by Martha Bromelmeier are attractive, and the full orchestra under Michael O’Flaherty blends well.
“A Funny Thing Happened…” is an easy musical to reproduce because it’s subject to wide interpretation. High schools and colleges have been performing it for years. Yet here, this comedy offers a brilliantly polished freshness. It’s like adding secret spices to a basic stew – delicious! The extra funny things that happen on Goodspeed’s stage will keep you laughing all the way to your home.
“A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum” plays until November 29.
Box Office: 860-873-2329.
This review appears in November’s “On Connecticut Theatre.”