Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Funny Thing

This review of the 2006 production of A Funny Thing on the Way to the Forum at Ferndale Rep was originally paired with a review of Broadway Bound at NCRT-- hence the references to Sid Caesar.  The "Eugene" mentioned is the main character of Broadway Bound, based on Neil Simon himself.  Simon wrote for Sid Caesar, and wrote about that in Laughter on the 23rd Floor.  Larry Gelbart, who wrote "Forum," had also written for Caesar.  Sid, that is.

Along with Ernie Kovacs and Steve Allen, Sid Caesar was a comic innovator in exploring the particular opportunities of the television medium, but sketch comedy goes back through radio, burlesque and vaudeville to Rome, where most of the comedies were variations on the plot of A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum. The aforementioned Larry Gelbart wrote the book, with Bert Shevelove. Gelbart wrote for the TV M*A*S*H, and also authored the kind of political satire that Eugene’s grandfather would like, like the teleplay about media barons, Weapons of Mass Distraction.

“Forum” was Stephen Sondheim’s first Broadway show writing music and lyrics. The story is an extended Sid Caesar sketch version of Roman comedy, with increasingly frenetic farce—characters with names like Hysterium and Erronius running around in togas-- punctuated by frequent songs.

 Except for the too-few melodies sung by the extraordinary Minderella Willens and the pleasing voice of Evan Needham, and a rollicking number featuring comic stars James Read, Steve Carter, Bob Wells and Lonnie Blankenchip, the songs are largely a distraction (but then, I’m not a Sondheim fan anyway.) But most of the cast is gloriously comic and energetic (including Carol Martinez, Evan Needham and Rob Service in crucial supporting roles), and the production is well served by all its other elements—lighting, costumes, set and Dianne Zuleger’s fast-paced direction.

 Among the fetching dancing courtesans, Kim Hodel in particular uses the spacious Ferndale stage to sinuous advantage. It’s naughty, it’s nice, it’s a sprightly evening (or afternoon) of summer fun. So let us bury our troubles and praise the Alumni—and all hail Sid Caesar, the mightiest Roman of them all!

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