If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan


Is “America’s Funniest Musical”, still that funny?  That was the word for a long time about “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, Stephen Sondheim, Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart’s mad-cap musical farce currently in revival at Goodspeed Musicals.  The East Haddam theatre can always be counted on to deliver professional and polished productions and, for the most part, this latest offering will no doubt please those looking for some laughs with their music.

The thoroughly ridiculous plot of “Forum” makes mincemeat of every Roman-based epic you’ve ever seen.  It concerns the plight of Pseudolus (Adam Heller), a fast-thinking slave who plots to secure his freedom by helping his master’s son, Hero (Sam Pinkleton), find true love with Philia (Emily Thompson), the nubile virgin next door.  Next door happens to be the local house of ill repute where owner Marcus Lycus (Ron Wisniski) is currently ready to sell Philia to Miles Gloriousus (Nat Chandler), a beefy Captain who is used to getting what he paid for and sings for it loudly.

 Silliness runs rampant in this high-spirited, pun-filled romp which, under the serviceable direction of Ted Pappas, is often more frantic than fun.  This is especially true in the musical’s rather tedious second act which includes a tiresome chase sequence ultimately hindered by James Noone’s impressive but overly large set.  Goodspeed’s tiny stage is currently bulging at the seams.  In addition, Pinkleton and Thompson make for a rather bland duo lacking chemistry and sex appeal.  It’s significant to note that Ms. Thompson’s rendition of the amusing song, “Lovely”, in act one is effectively upstaged by John Scherer, playing a manic manservant, who offers his own comic rendering of the same song in act two.

Mr. Heller has taken his burlesque clown role to heart and sets the tone early on with a rousing performance of “Comedy Tonight”, the musical’s signature number.  He’s also great fun with three other members of the male cast for the delightfully dirty ditty, “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid”.  Led by the invaluable David Wohl, playing Hero’s hen-pecked father to perfection, the song is a stand-out in Sondheim’s witty score.  The stable of leggy chorines from the House of Marcus Lycus fill out their g-strings and beads with flair though one wishes that the creators had given them a little more to do than just pose.  Still, none of the men in the audience were complaining.

“Forum”, a Broadway hit in 1962 when it was showered with six Tony Awards including “Best Musical”, may have seen its day by now, but the Goodspeed crowd lapped it all up with relish.  This kind of farcical fluff never seems to go out of style.

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” continues at Goodspeed Musicals through November 29th.  For further information or ticket reservations call the box office at 860.873.8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company.  He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.  His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.
This review first appeared in Elm City Newspapers on October 28, 2009

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