Orange County Theatre Reviews

photo courtesy : Stage Door Repertory 

Written by Scotty Keister 

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum opened on Broadway in 1962, and it’s pretty much been running on one stage or another ever since. Notably, it was Stephen Sondheim’s first show as both composer and lyricist. It’s a broad, vaudevillian type farce, written by Lerry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove, and its humor relies largely on mugging and pratfalls from the cast. That being said, Stage Door Repertory’s production, directed by Glenn Freeze, is largely a success because it is sublimely true to the show’s old-timey comedy roots.

Scott K. Ratner plays the ambitious slave Pseudolus, whose plotting and conniving drive the story (what there is of it). He pulls out all the stops in a high-energy, kinetic performance. This is a show where old men sing and dance and pretty much control all the action. Nick Charles is the hapless Senex, dodging his wife, Domina (Amy Lauren Gettys) while lusting after the slave girl, Philia (Mary Frances Conover) whom his son, Hero (Julian Ronquillo) is in love with. Meanwhile, Pseudolus is manipulating the head slave, Hysterium (Floyd E. Riggle, Jr) as well as the next-door neighbor, brothel owner Lycus (Bill Kontur). One of the delights of the show is watching the four old dudes cavorting on stage together, singing, “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” by which they mean a young sexy girl in the house. In this show, nothing is implicit, everything is explicit. There is no subtlety; it’s all rubber chicken humor. Thankfully, most of the cast is up to it. Charles’ deft double takes, Riggle, Jr’s constant state of fluster and Ratner’s wild-eyed mugging carry the show. Robert Tully as Miles Gloriosus, the Roman general, brings a much-needed straight-faced comedy presence to the otherwise madcap insanity. The show also features a trio of comics, known as the Proteans for their ever-changing character traits, played by Matthew P. Berardi, Matthew Candela and Shane Cervantes. They are given a lot of stage business, which translates to a lot of very physical mugging. Some of it is funny, some just annoying. Lycus’ Courtesans, the sexy working girls of the brothel, have some memorable moments, but are regrettably under-used.

Other than some opening night timing miscues, it’s a solid production overall. These are not Sondheim’s most memorable tunes, other than “Comedy Tonight” and the aforementioned “Maid” song, but the singing is uniformly fine and all the songs are clearly understood, which is not always the case in stage musicals. Mary Frances Conover’s powerful operatic tremolo stands on its own, perhaps too noticeably. The costumes are very, very colorful. When the whole cast is on stage together they resemble a singing Crayon box.

It’s a fun show to look at: light, ephemeral, bubbly, giggly, naughty, goofy, completely ridiculous, and boasting its own special charm. The pace never flags, and it’s always upbeat. Glenn Freeze is a long-time fan of this show and its vaudeville roots, and he certainly knows how to put it on stage. It runs through February 6.

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