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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

The Goodspeed Opera House offers a sprightly production of this great musical farce. logo
John Scherer, Ron Wisniski, David Wohl, and Adam Heller
in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
(© Diane Sobolewski)
Nearly a half-century after its first appearance on Broadway, the Stephen Sondheim-Burt Shevelove-Larry Gelbart musical farce, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, now receiving a sprightly revival at the Goodspeed Opera House, continues to do its creators proud. Powered along by Sondheim's scintillating array of songs, the material indefatigably amuses -- and director Ted Pappas has wrested every last laugh from the script. In fact, the production packs in so many visual and aural treats, it's hard to take them all in at once.

It helps that Adam Heller chooses to play it cool but warm, rather than desperate, as Pseudolus, the ingenious Roman slave who sets the various colliding plots in motion. From the moment that Heller takes the stage, assuring the audience of unmitigated fun and games to come, he seems eminently trustworthy. Heller never overreaches for a reaction; he just exudes offhanded charm and a palpable delight in the ever-escalating, increasingly byzantine intrigues that Pseudolos jerry-rigs in a bid to to secure his freedom.

This bemused and playful Pseudolus leaves the field for fretting wide open to his slave superior, Hysterium -- and John Scherer, sporting a spiky Peter Sellars brush cut, never overdoes the panic implicit in his character's name. His big number, "I'm Calm," is more of a repressed knuckle-biter than a full-scale freak-out, and it's all the funnier for it.

As Hero, the handsome young calf besotted with the concubine-to-be next door, Sam Pinkleton is a real find. Not only does he have the requisite cartoon-hero looks (and sculpted thighs), but his take on "Love, I Hear" is a real, fully-lived journey. His rivalrous duet with his father, Senex, is another memorable moment -- even if David Wohl inexplicably employs a Sean Connery "ac-shent" that somewhat obscures his lines and lyrics. As Senex's Gorgonian wife Domina, Mary Gutzi pulls out all the stops.

Pappas' choreography for the assorted harlots may not be all that distinctive, but Laura Keller stands out -- and way up -- as the Amazonian Gymnasia. (Martha Bromelmeier's fanciful costumes, especially the marabou-trimmed, black-chiffon shortie peignoirs that the prostitutes don for the faux-funeral scene, are consistently delightful.) Major credit must also go the the three Proteans (Jason Babinsky, Kurt Domoney, and Steve Konopelski), who wryly ensure that there's never a dull moment, sight-gag-wise. The only real disappointment in the cast is Emily Thompson as Philia. Her rendition of "Lovely" simply isn't. It's too brassy -- a legitimate choice, but less effective than the enchantingly dim ditziness written in.

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