Thursday, April 7, 2011

theatre review, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, Paper Mill Playhouse, April 6, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the bawdy musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, is finishing up a four week run at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ. 

Forum tells the story of the slave Pseudolus who will do anything in his attempt to win his freedom.  He thinks he finally will get the chance now, he just needs to help his master Hero get the girl next door first and then freedom will be his.  Inspired by the Ancient Roman farces of Plautus, the show is filled with slapstick, mistaken identities, puns, surprises, love struck youth, some wonderful Sondheim gems and even pirates!  It won the 1962 Tony for Best Musical and the original Broadway production ran for 964 performances and starred Zero Mostel as Pseudolus, who also won a Tony.  Subsequent Broadway revivals in 1972 and 1996 starred Phil Silvers and Nathan Lane as Pseudolus, who also both won Tonys for their performances. 

Vogt, Bowen and Krombach
The production at Paper Mill that closes this Sunday April 10th, is well cast, directed at a brisk place and is funny and charming in all the right places. In fact, the entire production including sets, costumes and props attempts to ring every ounce of humour out of the book and score, and pretty much delivers in every aspect. The extremely colorful sets are functional yet funny and the costumes are perfectly designed for the aspects of each character. I especially like how modern glasses were worn by Hysterium, as he is somewhat of a nerdy know it all.

As far as the cast goes, the entire cast is perfectly capable in getting to the humor at the story. Paul Vogt as Pseudolus did a fine job at leading this troop of merrymakers and his singing was absolutely fine. Vogt has appeared on the tv show MADtv as well as has played "Edna" in Hairspray on Broadway and while he may not quite have the star power of Zero Mostel or Nathan Lane, it is nice to see him in another comical lead role. With the exception of Pseudolus, Forum is really an ensemble show and this cast works extremely well together and are also each exceedingly capable of delivering the many facets of the archetype roles they play. Justin Bowen as Hero and Chelsea Krombach as Philla are the perfect young, virginal, love struck couple and sing the love songs in the show with nice clear voices.  Greg Vinkler and Beth McVey are the older couple, he with a roving eye and she basically a domineering shrew.  They both play their parts extremely well.  John Scherer as Hysterium makes a fun straight man to most of Psedolus's jokes but also does an exceedingly good job in making us laugh at his inability to stay calm with all of the pandemonium happening around him. Stephen Buntrock as Milos Gladioso perfectly captures the strong, deep voiced military captain who even impresses himself with his abilities.

Director Mark Waldrop keeps the action moving along briskly with the farcical element to the act two searching sequence extremely well choreographed with the cast in perfect sync.  This show was somehwat infamous for the extreme ad libbing Mostel did in the original Broadway run, and while it doesn't seem that Vogt adds numerous ad libs like Mostel was known for, there are several bits that have been added to the script including a hilarious part Vogt sings when he is pretending to be a soothsayer and channels the opening chant from The Lion King.  Vogt also does an extremely humorous mock death scene where in the space of about 30 seconds sings bits of songs from every show in the upcoming 2011-2012 Paper Mill Season, ending with "I should have subscribed!" before he drops to the floor.

Forum is one of those shows that can fall apart if each cast member isn't up to the challenge, or if they aren't directed appropriately where the show could get too bawdy, too broad or too serious. Fortunately this production gets just about everything right.   Catch it if you can before it closes this coming Sunday.

Official Show Site

John Scherer (Hysterium), Stephen Berger (Marcus Lycus), Greg Vinkler (Senex) and Paul C. Vogt

Stephen Buntrock as Miles Gloriosus with the girls from the House of Marcus Lycos.

Video Montage with the Paper Mill cast -

Zero Mostel Tony Awards performance- "Comedy Tonight" -

Nathan Lane - Letterman performance- "Comedy Tonight"

Nathan Lane sings "Free" from the Broadway at the White House concert -

Amazon link for the cd of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1962 Original Broadway Cast)

Amazon link for the cd of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1996 Broadway Revival Cast)

Amazon link for the dvd of the movie of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum


  1. Stephen Buntrock as Miles Gloriosus with the girls from the House of Marcus Lycos picture is looks very beautiful.
    this story is very funny to read.

  2. I read this blog its like interesting story,great story.