Monday, November 9, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum at Theatre By The Bay by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum at Theatre By The Bay (The Community Theatre Group of Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum
Book by Burt Shevelove & Larry Gelbart
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed & Choreographed by Ovi Vargas
Musical Director & Accompanist: Alan Baboff
Costumer: Chery Maniello
Theatre By The Bay
Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center
13-00 209th Street
Bayside, New York 11360
Reviewed 11/8/15  

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum opened on Broadway on May 8, 1962 at the Alvin Theatre, and then was transferred to the Mark Hellinger Theatre and the Majestic Theatre, where the show closed on August 29, 1964, after 964 performances and 8 previews. Zero Mostel played the lead role of Pseudolus. The show won several Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Book, and Best Director. Mostel also played the lead in the very successful 1966 film of the same name. A 1972 revival on Broadway starred Phil Silvers as Pseudolus (later replaced with Tom Poston). That production ran for 156 performances and won two Tony Awards, the first for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, and the second for Best Featured Actor in a musical. The musical was revived again with great success in 1996, starring Nathan Lane as Pseudolus (replaced by Whoopi Goldberg and later by David Alan Grier). The production closed after 715 performances, and Lane won the Tony Award for Best Leading Actor. In fact, every actor who has opened in the role of Pseudolus on Broadway (Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, and Nathan Lane) has won a Best Leading Actor Tony Award for their performance. In addition, Jason Alexander, who performed as Pseudolus in one scene in Jerome Robbins' Broadway, also won a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical.

Inspired by the farces of ancient Roman playwright Plautus (251-183 B.C.), specifically Pseudolus, Miles Gloriosus and Mostellaria, the musical tells the tale of a slave named Pseudolus (Frank Josephs) and his attempts to win his freedom by helping his young master Hero (Sam Kaufman) win the love of Philia (Michele Mazzocco), a virgin slave from Crete whom he wishes to marry. Most of the action takes place on a street with three houses. One is owned by Erronius (Bob Alpert), who has been on a journey abroad searching for his long-lost children (kidnapped by pirates when they were infants). The second is owned by Marcus Lycus (Roger Leonardis), the "merchant of love" who is "a procurer of the flesh" in the business of renting and/or selling his merchandise. The third house is owned by Senex (Eli Koenig), who is married to Domina (Lila Edelkind), an emasculating dominant woman, who is the daughter of a general. It is in this house that Pseudolus and Hero live along with Hysterium (Sam Hunt), the house eunuch who has been left in charge since Senex and Domina left to visit her ailing mother. Getting Philia to love Hero turned out to be the easy part. However, she has already been purchased as a bride by the renowned warrior Miles Gloriosus (Michael D'Emidio), who is expected to come to claim her soon. What to do?

The ensuing plot displays the elements of a farce, including puns, potions, the slamming of doors, and cases of mistaken identity (frequently involving characters disguising themselves as others). Pseudolus has to get Philia out of her marriage contract with Miles Gloriosus so she can marry Hero and he can obtain his promised freedom. The result is pure hilarity. Frank Josephs does a fine job playing Pseudolus, interjecting into the script hints of Bert Lahr (as the cowardly lion), Paul Lynde, and The Three Stooges. He adds local references to the performance and remembered where he was when he apologized for saying "Mama Mia!" instead of "Oy Vey!" Sam Hunt was particularly strong in the role of Hysterium. Sam Kaufman showed great acting potential as Hero, as did Jason Wieder, who was impressive in various roles. Silent beauty dominated the stage as Marcus Lycus introduced his merchandise, which included Baletta (Jamie Barry), Gymnasia (Rebecca Cushman), Panacea (Christine Hull), Vibrata (Maria Louise), and Tintinabula (Alexandra Piquette). All cast members performed well. "Comedy Tonight," "Lovely," "Everybody Ought To Have A Maid," and "Impossible" stood out for me as having been particularly well-sung and Chery Maniello deserves special credit for doing an amazing job as the Costumer for the show.

The funniest line of the play, in my opinion, was uttered by Pseudolus while he was looking at one of the courtesans (i.e. prostitutes) in an upside down-and-sideways sought of way. He said, "she has a beautiful smile here, but I am a man of limited means." (Watch for it!) In a case of confused identity, Domina (thought to be an old courtesan) tells Miles Gloriosus that on the anniversary of her father's death, she entertained over 200 officers. When asked if she accomplished that task all by herself, she says, "No. Hysterium was a big help." 

If you are looking for a light-hearted musical that will take your mind off your cares and woes, I recommend you see Theatre By The Bay's production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum playing Saturday, November 14th & 21st at 8:00 p.m., and on Sunday, November 15th & 22nd at 3:00 p.m. Tickets cost $22.00 for adults and $20.00 for seniors (over 62) and children (12 and under). You can buy you tickets by calling 718-428-6363 or you can reserve them online by visiting http://www.theatrebythebayny.com/RESERVE-YOUR-TICKETS.html 

This is the first time I reviewed a show produced by Theatre By The Bay at the Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center. I was impressed with the layout and the friendliness of the staff. There were many security guards but they mostly made sure guests didn't wander into restricted areas. Concession items were priced right at $1.25 for coffee, soda or snacks. I was surprised there were no baked goods given the number of Jewish mothers associated with the theater company, but I was told there was no way to guarantee that donated goods would be kosher. (The guarantee, of course, is to ask the mothers to only bake kosher goods - would they really lie!) On the negative side, I recommend you get there early because finding parking is difficult but not impossible. 

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