“A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” is Sondheim’s 1962 Broadway musical hit that won Tony’s in Best Musical, Best Author of a Musical. It is now in a new revival on stage at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach through August 12.
It’s one big, long farce wrapped in Roman togas. There are more clowns (13 cast members, NCR’s largest yet) in this total production than one might find at 'Clown School'. Fortunately not one weak link, not one flaw…well unless you consider the flawed characters. But suffice it to say in this particular madcap show, that is chuckle and a guffaw from opening to closing, the cast and crew defy us not to like it.
Directed by artistic director David Ellenstein it just happens to be North Coast’s final production of its 36th season and something Ellenstein has wanted to stage for a long time. When the season was announced, another show was penciled in but fell through…so why not a comedy, a farce, a something for everyone?
Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics and Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart wrote the book inspired by the farces of ancient Roman playwright Plautus. If you love farce, this is a show for you. If you are not so inclined, suck it up you won’t be sorry.
|The cast of "Forum"|
The opening number suggests “There’s something for everyone; something familiar, something peculiar, something appealing, something appalling, something convulsive, something repulsive, something esthetic, something frenetic, nothing that’s formal, nothing that’s normal”.
The story is as convoluted as it is outlandish. Marty Burnett’s set of three houses at the rear of the stage ‘on a street in Rome’ and lit by Matt Novotny set the tone. One house belongs to Erronius (an exhausted looking John Greenleaf), whose children were kid-knapped by pirates when they were babies. He’s been searching for them for twenty years and he has a beard long enough to show for it.
|Melinda Gilb and Andrew Ableson|
The house in the center belongs to Senex (Andrew Abelson) and his wife Domina (a strong and funny as hell Melinda Gilb) and son Hero (starry eyed and naïve to a point of childishness Chris M. Kauffmann).
Senex is wealthy enough to have a slave Hysterium (Kevin Hafso Koppman who he lives up to his name). Senex’s son Hero also owns his own slave Pseudolus (Omri Schein), whose one desire is to be free.
Senex is no goody two shoes, in fact he lecherous old man and Ableson plays him well. Domina is suspicious of everything and has every reason to be, as we will find out as the play progresses. When they take off to visit her mother, it’s Pseudolus’ turn to shine (Shein) and make way for Hero to lose his virginity. Game on.
Pseudolus is the one character this silly ditty revolves around. He sets the tone and weaves the way for Hero to meet up with Philia. Shein carries the show with his perfect vaudevillian comic routine; facial expressions that look like someone just twisted it like a pretzel and an intensity that convinces us he can carry it off. As mover and shaker, he has a big stake in the outcome.
|Noelle Marion and Chris M. Kauffmann|
His schemes to get Hero and Philia together can’t come off any funnier or crazier. It would take two very clever minds like Shevelove and Gelbart to come up with something as outrageous, and a character actor the likes Schein to pull it off. His shenanigans are so over the top that just the act of his falling takes at least five minutes. It’s almost like watching the hero of an opera die.
The third house belongs to Marcus Lycus (a delicious David McBean). His Eunuch (Luke H. Jacobs) takes on several roles and is a hoot in all. “If I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times; do not fan the girls when they're wet! But you'll never learn, you'll be a eunuch all your life.”
|David McBean and Kevin Hafso Koppman|
Lycus buys and sells high-class prostitutes. Among his courtesans one Phila (Noelle Marion) is waiting for her intended Miles Gloriosus (A very handsome and concieted looking Jason Maddy). Lycus is keeping Panacea (Amy Perkins), Vibrata (Missy Marion) and Titania (Jean Schroeder) tucked away for future high stake buyers.
As fate would have it, Hero only has eyes for…you guessed it Phila. Unfortunately she was sold to Gloriosus and belongs to him. So… how to get Hero and Philia together in order for Pseudolus can gain his freedom is the question?
And for the answer: ANYTHING. That’s the long and the short list of his off the wall capers that keep this farce alive. He narrates, he navigates and he promote it all with the intention of freeing himself.
|Luke H. Jacobs, Omri Schein, Jason Maddy and Perkins|
Most of the time he gets himself deeper and deeper as the plot thickens but not so deep as to lose sight of the great job Ellenstein has done in moving his large cast around on a relatively small space or that choreographer Colleen Kollar Smith can’t make her dancers (Luke Harvey Jacobs as Eunuch and Protean) taking on several heavy roles), Amy Perkins and Missy Marion, look like they have all the room they need.
|David McBean, Jason Maddy and Omri Schein|
With four musicians tucked away backstage under the direction of Ron Councell, and with Aaron Rumley’s sound design, “Everybody Ought To Have A Maid”, I’m Calm”, The Dirty Old Man”, and “Comedy Tonight”, everything sounded clear to my ears on opening night. Costume designer Elisa Benzoni’s get ups are just as outlandish as the play, Peter Herman’s wigs and hair does everyone justice, Roman style, and the cast and crew deserve a big BRAVO! for a show well done.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Aug. 12th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 387 Lomas Santa Fe Drive. Suite D, Solana Beach, CA
Ticket Prices: $49.00-$56.00
Photo: Aaron Rumley