That long, long title tells us what we
need to know. “A funny thing . . .” is the conventional opening line
for a burlesque comic, and four of them dominate the action. Prime is
Pseudolus (Hipius), the slave wanting to win his freedom from his old
master Senex (Lanny Freshman, our top vaudevillian). The second
banana/second slave is the madcap Hysterium (Michael Spinoso Jr., the
fourth time in this role). And rounding out the quartet is Lycus (the
usually more resolute Mark Allen Holt), a buyer and seller of
courtesans. Put together we have broad comedy, broads and a Stephen
Sondheim score from before his discovery of anxiety.
The second part of the title, “ . . . on
the way to the Forum,” signals that the show is also writers Burt
Shevelove and Larry Gelbart’s spoof of Roman comedy, specifically of
Plautus. That’s why director/set designer Dustin M. Czarny has
constructed the necessary three doorways, for rapid exits and
entrances. There’s also a full array of stock characters, such as the
dominating older woman Domina (Patricia Elise Catchouny), the misled
old man Erroneus (Harlow Kisselstein) and the vain, self-important
soldier, Miles Gloriosus (Bill Ali).
Tall, roundish and fair-haired, Hipius
is not a natural for Pseudolus, a role frequently handed off to an ugly
ethnic, but he’s given to impish improvisation. In an early moment he
says that the theater should be seen as a temple, or in this case,
“underneath one,” pointing his thumb up to the sanctuary of Atonement
Church on the next floor. Or when called upon to impersonate a
soothsayer under a shawl, he comes up with the magical incantation,
“Obama! Obama! Obama!” Hipius and company score big with the show’s
best number, “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” while not neglecting the
undercurrent of leering that reminds us that servant girls might be
asked to do more than dust and clean.
Attached to the frivolity is the love
story of two virgins trying to join hearts, Hero (Dan Williams), and
the well-born courtesan he and Pseudolus are trying to free from
bondage, Philia (Danan Healy). Strengthening the production, these two
newcomers also bring the best voices in the show so that the Act I
song, “Lovely,” carries a plausible resonance. Healy is triply blessed,
first in voice and second with blonde hair framing a drop-dead-gorgeous
face. Better yet, she brings a flair for comedy, getting laughs from
the falling-in-a-well shtick.
Forum came out the same year as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique,
and as we might expect the courtesans are horribly politically
incorrect. The young ladies, played by Jane Garlow, Erica Deiderich,
Monica Chetwin, Theresa Egloff, Megan M. Flanagan and Jessica Lee
Skipper-Kimpland, gamely allow for a few bare navels but otherwise do
not challenge Lutheran community standards.
Never cramped by space, Rachelle
Clavin’s choreography fills the stage, and music director Colin Keating
ably leads a seven-player ensemble from a screen. It’s a fast-paced,
rollicking show where the wigs fall off at the right time.
This production runs through June 27.
See Summer Stage Directory for information.