By Tina Arth
Apparently, the movers and shakers at Broadway Rose have a seer (perhaps Pseudolus?) – how else to explain their prescience when, in spring of 2015, they selected the unabashedly silly, utterly diverting comedy A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum to lighten up our mood during this bizarre political season? Sometimes a hefty dose of slapstick is just what the doctor ordered, and for 2+ hours last Friday, I (along with hundreds of other happy folks) was transported into a world of music, dance, and comedy where absolutely anything goes, as long as it’s fun.
The show was crafted by a thoroughbred team – book by comic writers Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, music and lyrics by the matchless Stephen Sondheim. Forum made its Broadway debut in 1962, winning Emmy Awards for Best Musical and Best Author (Musical), and its literally timeless structure means that in good hands it needs never become dated. Luckily for local theatergoers, this production is in very, very good hands. Director Abe Reybold’s cast, a mixture of top-notch Broadway Rose veterans and new blood, brings a wealth of experience as well as copious youthful exuberance to the stage, and the result is utterly flawless farce.
The story (a play within a play) is set in Ancient Rome, presented by a troupe of actors who alternate nightly between works of comedy and tragedy. The song you can’t get out of your head, “Comedy Tonight,” tells us which genre we’ll be seeing this evening. Action takes place on a street with three stately homes. The center house is that of respectable but hen-pecked Senex, his overbearing wife Domina, and son Hero. His neighbors are Lycus, a high-class pimp, and Erroneous, a bereaved and befuddled old man off seeking his long-lost children (stolen in infancy by pirates, of course). Domina is determined to preserve Hero from temptations of the flesh, but he espies the fair virgin Philia on a balcony at the House of Lycus and is immediately smitten. In exchange for a promise of freedom, Hero’s slave Pseudolus plots to bring the two young lovers together – not an easy task, since Lycus has already sold Philia to the blustery General Miles Gloriosus. Things get even more complicated, and the ultimate resolution rests (as it must in a good farce) on a series of thoroughly implausible events leading to the promised happy ending.
Broadway Rose General Manager Dan Murphy tackles the tough role (how do you follow Nathan Lane and Zero Mostel?) of the canny and freedom-loving Pseudolus with ease. His uninhibited, energetic embrace of the character drives the entire show, and gives him ample opportunity to display his chops as a vocalist and a physical comic. When Murphy’s huge smile lights up the stage the whole audience starts pulling for Team Pseudolus. Joe Thiessen delivers some great moments as Hysterium, Pseudolus’ unwilling and tightly wound co-conspirator –the point where he starts to believe his own shtick in “I’m Lovely” is unforgettable.
Ethan Crystal (Hero) and Kaitlyn Sage (Philia) are perfectly matched as comic book one-dimensional ingénues, gracing Sondheim’s love song parodies “Love I Hear” and “That’ll Show Him” with their flawlessly pure tenor and soprano tones. In addition, there is no shortage of memorable individual performances among the other thirteen cast members, not to mention stunning ensemble work in numbers like “Comedy Tonight” and the wittiest song in the show, “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid.”
Costume supervisor Brynne Oster-Bainsson decorates the set with her elaborate and (especially for the courtesans) imaginative designs, a fine complement to the Sean O’Skea’s colorful, witty and elaborate scenic design. The two combine their skills to create and populate a tiny Roman Toontown that could have come straight from the streets of Disneyland.
Already bored with the Olympics? Fed up with presidential politics? Do yourself a big favor and allow Broadway Rose to temporarily transport you to a singing, dancing world of harmless horseplay with something for everyone, where everything is both funny and fun. You deserve a comedy tonight!
Broadway Rose’s A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum runs through August 21st at Tigard High School’s Deb Fennell Auditorium.