Porchlight Music Theatre’s all-Sondheim season began with tragedy (“Sweeney Todd”), moved on to autobiography (“Sondheim on Sondheim”), and is now drawing to a close with “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” the zany 1962 “comedy tonight” romp that marked the first time the Broadway master created both the music and lyrics for a show. (He had earlier written the lyrics only for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.”) As if any further proof were needed, this lineup has demonstrated Sondheim’s brilliance at capturing the distinctive “voice” of myriad theatrical styles.
‘A FUNNY THING HAPPENED
ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM’
When: Through May 24
Where: Porchlight Music Theatre
at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont
Tickets: $39 – $45
Info: (773) 327-5252;
Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
With a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart — who took their inspiration from the farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus, but infused it with all-American vaudevillian hijinks — “A Funny Thing Happened” conjures chaos out of the fervent dream of a clever, ever-endangered slave, Pseudolus, to win his freedom. Pseudolus’ pursuit of that dream depends on his helping his virginal young master, Hero, woo the equally virginal Philia — a newbie courtesan who already has been promised to the macho general, Miles Gloriosus, and also is being hotly pursued by Hero’s father, Senex.
All the classic elements of farce — three doors, goofy wordplay, manic disguises, pratfalls, chases and erotic byplay — play themselves out here to the sweat-inducing beat of a high-speed metronome. And director Michael Weber and choreographer Brenda Didier keep their aerobically fit cast in the sort of laugh-inducing perpetual motion that is just one tiny step away from pure panic. The band, perched in balconies on either side of the audience, follows suit, led by music director Linda Madonia.
The zaniness comes into full force right from the start, with “Comedy Tonight,” in which a gaggle of tragedy icons (Hamlet, Richard III, Willy Loman and Medea) try to push their way into the spotlight. They might not like it, but they will have to wait for another evening to have their moment.
Bill Larkin (who still lingers in memory for his Jeff Award-winning performance in “A Class Act”), is an ideal Pseudolus — just brainy, desperate and frantic enough to suggest a man who craves freedom but is fully aware of the responsibilities that come with it. And he gets plenty of competition from his fellow slave, Hysterium (Matt Crowle, whose “winsome” drag sequence is perfection), a far more nervous and subservient fellow who oversees the household of Senex (played by Will Clinger, in fine fettle as a man whose drives may be beyond his capabilites), and his fearsome wife, Domina (the power-voiced Caron Buinis).
As Hero, Miles Blim — reed thin and geeky sweet — is awkward innocence personified. And watching him (as well as his dad) interact with Philia (curvy beauty Sarah Lynn Robinson, who is far more fetching than the usual girlishly naive type cast in this role), hits just the right note.
But the show’s casting is perfection from start to finish, with Greg Zawada as the ridiculously egotistical general, Miles Gloriosus; Lorenzo Rush Jr. as Lycus, the smarmy but ever-nervous procurer; Anthony Whitaker as Erronius, the addled old man in search of his long-lost children; and the acrobatic Proteans (Jason Grimm, Andrew Lund an Jaymes Osborne) who switch characters and costumes at warp speed from start to finish.
Of course the show’s sex appeal depends on the courtesans in the house of Lycus, all ideally set in motion by Didier. They include: Tintinabula (petite, belly-dancing Ariana Cappuccitti); Panacea (sultry Erica Evans); Vibrata (Britt-Marie Siversten as a true creature of the wild); and Gymnasia (Neala Barron, described as “a giant stage” of a woman). Didier also has great fun with the choreography for “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” and “Lovely.”
The show’s pop-up book set (by Megan Truscott) and costumes (by Alexia Rutherford) are a deft mix of old and new. And the cast’s clowning gives the whole production a sense of laugh-inducing, self-propelled animation.
NOTE: As part of its “Lost Musicals” series, Porchlight will present a staged concert reading of “Mack and Mabel,” the Jerry Herman-Michael Stewart musical about silent film director Mack Sennett and Mable Normand (the Brooklyn waitress he turned into a star) , will be presented May 12 and 13 at Stage 773.