|‘….way to the Forum’ more than ‘A ‘Funny Thing’ – it’s plumb hilarious
They used to do great musical comedies like "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" when summer resorts in the Catskills of upstate New York were at their peak. Oh, give it 50-60 years ago. Has it been updated? No. They made a movie of it in 1966 starring Zero Mostel and Phil Silvers.
It wasn't updated then, and how can you do this now when you've got, as the chorus sings, "A little bit gaudy and a little bit bawdy,"? Or six lissome dancers writhing with bared navels and gaudy wisps of chiffon? Or magic, allegedly lethal, potions, or pretended heroine's corpse (actually a man) fending off another man's kiss or a quartet of clumsy Roman soldiers in vain pursuit of the dancers? There are more mistaken identities, false clues, whip-snapping dialogues, and (when's the last time you saw an arrogant Roman general weep with sorrow on a slave's shoulder?), than you'd find in a dozen theater productions. There are more doors (actually curtains) on the three-level buildings than you'll find in a comfy Feydeau stage farce where exits and entrances have to be impeccably timed.
"Funny-Forum" crackles with energy. Director Gene Abravaya's a nut for precise timing and dead spots in a production have to be tromped on immediately. The story line is elegantly thin as written by Bert Shevelove and Larry Gelbart with music and lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim.
The story goes like there's this slave Pseudolus (SOO-doe-lus), who craves his freedom from the king and queen, their innocent teenage son, his love for an equally innocent virgin girl occupying the top story of an alleged bawdy house. Mix in two garrulous, groveling advisors, a not-too-bright baggy-panted ship's captain, and a trio of eunuchs and you wind up with a comedic brew that's been on the stage and screen longer than the city of RP.
Actually, it's Pseudolus clutching all these disparate characters together. He's there at opening curtain providing early laughs, popping in and out with sly comments and bizarre plans for the young couple right to the final curtain when all 20 cast members join in closing songs and curtain calls.
Tim Setzer, making his debut in a New Spreckels Theater Company presentation, plays Pseudolus. It fits him like a glove, for he had the same role in a Napa Theater production last year.
The Spreckels version has a talented costume designer, Pamela Enz, and she met all the challenges of ancient Rome tossed her way, like, say, Pamela, just what did eunuchs wear back then? Spreckels' own Eddy Hansen designed the lighting and teamed up with Elizabeth Bazzano, another Spreckels staffer, to design the multi-level set. Credit Michella Snider for the choreographic duties, always gymnastically supple and eye-catching. Music from a pit band led by music director Richard Riccardi and Sandy Riccardi do their best to keep up with the madcap action above them. Every cast member is as crisp as a pretzel lathered with spicy avocado dip.
Sure, "Funny-Forum" is nostalgic. Not nostalgic for days of Old Rome, but nostalgic in the sense of they just don't make musical comedies like this anymore. In this day and age of people held together on electronic leashes of cell phones, TV screens, Internet, Blogs, Twitter, Facebook et al, it's nice to immerse oneself in a warm bath of 20th century nostalgia. They don't come around often enough.
Not much time left - "Funny-Forum" closes this weekend with a Sunday matinee Feb. 17. Spreckels box office at 588-3400 has tickets. They're open afternoons until five and one hour before 8 p.m. curtain times.