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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum (Reprise)

Forum is not generally recognized as being experimental, but I find it very experimental. It is a direct antithesis of the Rodgers and Hammerstein school. The songs could be removed from the show and it wouldn't make any difference—Stephen Sondheim, in Craig Zadan's book Sondheim &Co/
May the gods be praised for supplying very tall boys and very tall girls, for shtick, for sight gags and bad puns, for wonderfully written songs &mdash no matter how irrelevant they may be to a vaudevillian plot &mdash and for the savvy director who knows where all the pieces fit. May the gods be praised for the unconventional crowd pleaser that is A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum and let's give a shout out to the Jason Alexander-led Reprise Theatre Company for programming it.

Director David Lee, whose Sondheim-ian taste have tilted from dark (Company and Assassins for Reprise) to "pass the cyanide" (Do I Hear a Waltz? at the Pasadena Playhouse) is more than content to romp it up here. As well he should. Forum, a vaudevillian send-up of the works of Plautus and a potential showpiece for a comic minded scene chewer, should be a fun-house. Indeed Lee's not always fleet production largely leaves no shtick unshtuck. Kate Bergh gets some solid yuks for her costumes (especially those worn by the Courtesans.) Height disparity gags are easy game especially given the rather gargantuan dimensions of Laura Keller's Gymnasia and a Protean (Matthew Patrick Davis) who looks like he is pushing 7 feet.

Music wise, Forum has two show stoppers; Lee's production contains three. The ever hummable opening "Comedy Tonight" with its clowning antics never fails to delight. Ditto "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" although more for the comic strength of its four singers than for anything choreographer Peggy Hickey is doing with movement. Fresh to this performance is the reinsertion of "Farewell," a protracted goodbye number that Stephen Sondheim wrote for Nancy Walker for the musical's 1972 revival. At Reprise, Ruth Williamson &mdash whose wig and makeup alone get her laughs &mdash swoons and red herrings her way off the stage as her son Hero (Erich Bergen) and slave Hysterium (Larry Raben) look bemusedly on. It's a great diva turn, and every time we think the number has ended, we're wrong.

Speaking of divas, the late librettists Shevelove and Gelbart stuffed enough self worshiping, lusty and egomaniacal characters into Forum to populate Mount Olympus. While none of Lee's players are as apt to go the full ham lengths of say, a Jerry Lewis or Mickey Rooney (a former touring Pseudolus), there's still some pretty decent antic behavior going on here.

Among the perpetrators are Stuart Ambrose as a menacing and self adoring Milos Gloriosus and Ron Orbach whose dirty old man Senex is more philosophical than gung ho at the prospect of bedding the virgin Philia (Annie Abrams). Alan Mandel, his legs bare, his disposition sweet, laps the stage periodically as the wandering Erronius. Raben's Hysterium lives up to his name at the arrival of his number "I'm Calm," but otherwise seems, well, largely composed and in control.

Even Lee Wilkof, playing the freedom and skirt chasing slave Pseudolous, works largely mug free, and not necessarily to the part's detriment. Short and balding, a natural quipster, Wilkoff is an affable ringleader who sings well and spars easily. Meaning no disrespect to Mr Wilkof, I remain a bit muddled over why Reprise Artistic Director Jason Alexander didn't take this opportunity to Psueo-lize himself. No matter. This Forum hits all the proper bullseyes and then some.

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 David Lee
Cast: Lee Wilkof (Prologus/Pseudolus), Ron Orbach (Senex), Ruth Williamson (Domina), Erich Bergen (Hero), Larry Raben (Hysterium), Alan Mandell (Erronius), Stuart Ambrose (Miles Gloriosus), Michael Kostroff (Marcus Lycus), Meg Gillentine (Tintinabula), Mercy Malick (Panacea), Bradley Benjamin (Geminae), Candy Olsen (Geminae), Tonya Kay (Vibrata), Laura Keller (Gymnasia), Annie Abrams (Philia), Matthew Patrick Davis (Protean), Russ Marchand (Protean), Justin Wilcox (Protean)
Stage Manager: Jill Gold
Set Design: Bradley Kaye
Costume Design: Kate Bergh
Lighting Design: Jared A. Sayeg
Sound Design: Philip G. Allen
Music Director/additional arrangements: Steve Orich
Choreography: Peggy Hickey
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission
Reprise Theatre Company at the Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, UCLA.(310) 825-2101,
From March 17 to March 28
Tue-Sat. @ 8pm, Sat. @ 2 pm, Sun. @ 2 and 7 pm
Reviewed by Evan Henerson, based on March 17 performance.
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