A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to The Forum

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Burt Shevelove  and Larry Gelbart
Directed by Paul Farwell
Choreographed by Linda Sughrue
Music Director Wayne Ward
Turtle Lane Playhouse, Newton, through August 23rd.

 Reviewed by G.L. Horton

"A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to The Forum" might be thought to be a bit too brash for a cozy little suburban playhouse like Turtle Lane.  Where are the shameless young hussies willing to play Marcus Lycus' courtesans, in scenes of no redeeming social importance whatsoever, going to come from?  There weren't any available for the community theatre production I saw in this neighborhood a few years back.   From whence would appear a top banana to play Pseudolus well enough to compete with the memory of the half dozen masters of the triple take whose memory makes me smile whenever I think of this show?

Not to worry.  Three fresh and lovely young ladies from dancing school have joined Turtle Lane regulars who play The Geminae (Linda Sughrue, Julie Silverman) to fill, amply, the parts of Tintinabula (Christine Burns), Panacea (Laura Hill) and Vibrata.(Brandi Rae McGrath). Richard Itczak has dressed these sirens in luscious costumes made out of enough material  so that their grandmothers won't be shocked if they come to see them perform.  Choreographer Sughrue has devised entertaining dance routines on the safe side of pornographic, and pin-up poses on the silly side of suggestive.   The courtesan crew is topped off by model Tracy Sperling's awe inspiring Gymnasia.  Sperling is a newcomer to the stage, but the part doesn't suffer from the performer's lack of experience.  All she needs to do is stand there in all her natural majesty and lesser mortals are thrown into a tizzy of admiration. Stephen Capriulo is new to Turtle Lane-- but he's clearly an old hand at low comedy.   Capriulo may not even have been born when "Forum" made its debut in 1962, but he plays the part of  Pseudolus, the slave who will perform prodigies in the service of his young master Hero's love for a virginal courtesan, as if Shevelove and Gelbart might have written it especially for him.  Of course, where there's a line or two that doesn't fit, Capriulo can substitute ones he has written himself, or made up on the spot. It's that kind of show. Turtle Lane's intimate stage, with entrances made down the center aisle through the audience, offers plenty of opportunity to ad lib and interact with the crowd-- which Capriulo does with the deft wit and apt judgment.

I wish I could say the same for the actor playing Erronius.  He, or director Paul Farwell, decided to go over the top here, and fell into the pit of diminishing returns.  However, this erroneous interpretation is my only complaint.  Otherwise, Farwell's work is right on target, zinging in bulls eye after bulls eye until the audience is giddy with good-natured laughter.  The lovers, Diana Doyle and Christopher Mack, are charming and graceful and harmlessly brainless: yes, "winsome... as in some dream come true."  Jan Hansen's Senex is as cute as a dirty old man can be.   Chuck Walsh's Marcus Lycus is on the cute side too, a creation of subtle swishes, more sympathetic than usual.  Susan Walsh's Domina dominates.  Scott Sevigny is very good as the slave-steward Hysterium, but he is spot on brilliant as a virginal corpse laid out in wedding finery.  Patrick English, bearded with a sable silvered, standing nearly seven feet tall and with a voice that can bring down brick and plaster, is just amazing. English's Miles Gloriosus sings the song of his astonishing self, and his declaration of his own magnificence could pass for understatement.  The Proteans, William Cohen, Christian Potts, and Jessica Shulman, were truly protean-- for a while they had me convinced that there was a fourth among them, not listed in the program.  Oh yes: all these people can sing, and the Sondheim lyrics and score are wonderfully well worth singing.  I sang them all the way home, myself. Wayne Ward's orchestra is upbeat and in tune, Ronald Dion's crazy-columned ice-cream-colored set sets just the right tone, and Mark Olivere's lighting and William Shamlian's sound design make all the other elements work without calling attention to themselves.  Congratulations, all.   You had us in stitches, and left us smiling.