“Forum” An Immediate Hit As St. Louis Audience Roots For New Pseudolus At Muny

forum-companyThe news from this week’s Muny production, “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum,” is the lead actor succumbing to St. Louis pollen and allergies. Peter Scolari had to bow out when his already aggravated sinuses caused him to lose his voice so last week’s Scuttle The Seagull, Jeffrey Schecter came in on two days noticed and learned the extensive role of Pseudolus- the Roman slave who is eager to be “Free”- and, despite carrying around his “side” script, won over the audience with a near flawless production on opening night.

forum-courtesansStephen Sondheim’s first show that featured both his music and lyrics, “Forum” has long been a staple of musical theatre. It’s not a hard show to love with funny one-liners, complicated relationships and and grand chase scene at the end with mistaken identities and a few other surprises. Director Gary Griffin has brought all the broad humor and madcap mayhem worthy of the show. Musical director, Brad Haak gives the actors a lot of leeway as well with the sometimes complicated songs (they even cut one of my favorites, “Pretty Little Picture” which is somewhat of a tongue twister for the lead) and allows them to slip in as needed. The Alex Sanchez choreography is simple but effective (maybe because of the last minute cast change) but the songs carry themselves so well that it doesn’t matter. “Everybody Ought To Have A Maid” is the highlight of every production of “Forum” and this one is no exception. The crowd is roaring for every built in reprise.

forum-maidAs for the cast, Mr. Schecter will probably lose the carry on script a few shows in but, even with that slight encumbrance, he does amazing well for such a complicated role. He has managed to capture the sly and often surreptitious Pseudolus attitude with a wink of the eye to the audience and a clever portrayal of the original con man. Aiding him in his activities is John Tartaglia as the nervous servant, Hysterium, of the household of Senex and Domina. The gangly Tartaglia is perfectly suited to this role in his solo, “I’m Calm” and, of course, dressed as the ingenue Philia in the closing sequence.

forum-philiaSpeaking of Philia, Ali Ewoldt is perfect as the innocent and always befuddled courtesan chosen by Lycus for Captain Mile Gloriosus. When Hero, son of Senex and Domina, falls for her, Pseudolus must find a way to spirit her out of the house of ill repute and get the two lovers out of town. Marrick Smith makes a wonderful Hero as he has the looks and often the mental powers of Philia to make them a perfect pair. And, as Lycus, Jason Kravits is properly oily and a bargaining match for Pseudolus.

forum-dominaMark Linn-Baker and E. Faye Butler shine as Senex and Domina. She has the overpowering tone to bring Senex to his knees and displays a wonderful singing voice in her solo, “That Dirty Old Man.” Nathaniel Hackmann displays a powerful conceit as the proclaims upon his entrance, “Stand aside everyone, I take large steps.” Rounding out the principle cast is a delightful performance from St. Louis actor, Whit Reichert as the befuddle Erronius who interrupts the proceedings occasionally as he wanders noisily across the stage in his efforts to walk seven times around the Seven Hills of Rome.

forum-milesThe supporting cast of Proteans and Courtesans are a great addition to the comedy and the Tim Mackabee scene design is a perfect fit for the vast Muny stage. Mara Blumenfeld’s costumes are functional and funny while the Rob Denton lighting design is right on the mark with a few dazzling moments.

forum-whitDespite the “drama” of the last minute stand in for the lead role, it’s “Comedy Tonight” all the way for the Muny production of “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.” It plays through July 11th, so get your tickets now for the bawdiest and funniest show of the season.

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