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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Forum, Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart's homage to the works of Plautus, is a busy, bawdy affair with endless hamminess, chases, slammed doors, pratfalls and double entendres. You've got your chases and your jokes about dropped busts — also great yuks from the recurring gag of ancient Erronius (played by E.K. Dagenfield) taking a plodding lap across the stage because he thinks it will rid his house of ghosts.
Best of all, when the players break into song, they do so to the marvelous melodies and twisted lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, wrapping their tongues around lines like "The bong of the bell of the buoy in the bay/ And the boy and the bride and the boat are away." Yes, the gods of musical comedy should be more than appeased.
We have a slave who will take any measure to obtain his freedom and a ripe young man in love with the virgin who was bought by a brothel keeper to be sold to a general. Also, there are the young man's parents who leave the wrong people in charge and return to get in on the mayhem. Then you've got an old man looking for the separated-at-birth twins who were stolen by pirates. Misunderstandings abound as well as cross-dressing, faked deaths and, as the opening song promises, "a happy ending of course."
Although the play has much built in bawdiness, Bwarie keeps the proceedings well in the PG-range. The young courtesans gyrate and shake their assets while Kevin Symons and Candi Milo are plenty horny as the lecherous patriarch and matriarch of the House of Senex. The tunics and shifts designed by Jessica Champagne-Hansen are appropriate without overexposing. Line deliveries and lightly improvised stage business are all is in good fun.
As the skirt-chasing, freedom-coveting slave Pseudolus, Paul C. Vogt is a game ringmaster of the revels. Portly and apple-cheeked, driven by slyness rather than manic energy, Vogt is often the calmest person on stage. (Following his work opening weekend, Vogt will pick up the role and finish the run Dec. 14-31. Erstwhile New Kid on the Block Joey McIntye plays Pseudolus Nov. 22 to Dec. 10).
The romantic young love interests aren't straight players here and Michael Thomas Grant and Nicole Kaplan are genially dim and dimmer as lovestruck Hero and his coveted virgin Philia. Grant's doe-eyed rendition of "Love, I Hear" is a kick, while Kaplan can bring off both a vapid ingénue with "Lovely" and a hard charging would-be romantic crusader with "That'll Show Him." Shamicka Benn, Liz Bustle and Vanessa Nichole who play five courtesans and the Proteans are kept hopping as well as grinding.
Long the home of musicals by the Troubadour Theater Company when it was called the Falcon Theatre, the venue is still finding its musical sea legs a bit with this Forum. Despite being miked, the players were drowned out in the early numbers by musical director Brent Crayon's four-person band which also sounded tinny on opening night. Hopefully, everything will sync up as the run develops. With its small house and perfect sightlines, the Marshall has long been one of the city's best sites for a musical party.
So party on, Romans and may the spirit of Garry Marshall who generated so many laughs help guide you on your side-splitting endeavors.
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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Joseph Leo Bwarie
Cast: Paul C. Vogt, Joey McIntyre, Shamicka Benn, Liz Bustle, Ethan Cohn, E.K. Dagenfield, Michael Thomas Grant, Nicole Kaplan, Candi Milo, Vanessa Nichole, Clayton Snyder, Kevin Symons
Musicians: Brent Crayon, Nick Stone, Dana Decker, Gene Burkert Scenic Design: Fred Kinney
Costume Design: Jessica Champagne-Hansen
Sound Design: Robert Arturo Ramirez
Lighting Design: Francois-Pierre Courture
Properties Supervisor: John McElveney
Music Supervisor: Matt Gould
Musical Director: Brent Crayon
Stage Manager: Mercedes Clanton
Choreography: Becca Sweitzer
Plays through December 31, 2017 at the Garry Marshall Theatre, 4252 W.Riverside Drive, Burbank, (818) 955-8101, www.garrymarshalltheatre.org
Running time: Two hours, with one 15 minute intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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