A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is packed with jokes. From each character name to every motivation, Forum's script and music is designed specifically as a joke delivery system. There is even one hiding in its title: Back in the day, vaudeville comedians would often begin a joke or a story with "a funny thing happened on the way to the theater..." and that vaudevillian sensibility is infused throughout every minute of director Deb De Grosse's take on the material.
Forum's music was written by the master composer Stephen Sondheim (Into the Woods, West Side Story) with the book penned by Burt Shevelove (No, No, Nanette) and Larry Gelbart (creator of the show M*A*S*H). The show opened on Broadway in 1962 with Zero Mostel (from The Producers on film and Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway) starring as Psuedolus and ran until 1964, where it closed with 964 performances under its belt. After the film version's success in 1966, there were a few revivals of the show over the years, but none as successful as the 1996 version with Nathan Lane in the lead.
The show follows Pseudolus, an ancient Roman slave, who will do anything to gain his freedom. He does this by helping his master, Hero, win the heart of the beautiful Philia. The story is not as important as the script and music's almost desperate need to entertain through being the most ridiculous farce it can possibly be. The show uses every trick in the farce arsenal: slamming doors, mistaken identity, more puns than once thought humanly possible, fart jokes, winking, mugging, and broad jabs at social class distinctions. However, it is not just the audience's enjoyment of those devices that will decide the success of the show, but also the cast that is out on stage delivering those gags. Veteran local actor Russ Seaton plays Pseudolus with aplomb. His smooth baritone commands attention, while also having enough gentle humor in his performance to keep the audience feeling like they're being sung to and not at.
Seaton hadn't seen the play before auditioning. "I knew some of the music and the basic story and wanted to be a part of the fun," Seaton says. "I trained at Wesleyan University to be a classical/opera singer, but I really enjoy Broadway musicals. As an adult, this is my sixth musical."
The company did a selection of some of the numbers for the press. Songs like "Comedy Tonight," "Free," and "That Dirty Old Man" impressed (with John Kish nailing Hero and Sherie Neff vocally soaring as Domina), but when the entire company came out for the finale, the vocals hit new heights.
De Grosse and company have done a very faithful production of Forum, and whether that appeals to a mainstream audience really just depends on the audience itself. Forum is an old-school show with vaudevillian winks and nudges, but it is an important piece of theater history. The show has to be watched with eyes unclouded by a modern, jaded sensibility or its simple gift of a night of entertainment will be missed.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
June 12-June 27, 7:30pm. June 14 & 21, 2pm.
Cascades Theatrical Company, 148 NW Greenwood Ave.