Theater Review: A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (North Coast Rep in San Diego)

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by Milo Shapiro on July 30, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Only in Ancient Rome! Pseudolus, the wise-cracking slave (Omri Schein), can earn his freedom if he can somehow get the pretty, bubble-headed virgin (Noelle Marion) staying next door to become the beloved of his twenty-something master, Hero (Chris M. Kauffmann). Alas, she is promised to uber-masculine Army Captain Miles Glorius (Jason Maddy) and therefore Pseudolus must hatch a plot to release Glorius’s claim upon the girl. And what a wild and wacky plot it unravels into.

Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart’s book was first produced on Broadway in 1962 to great success, garnering several Tonys, including “Best Musical.” With its roots deep in the slapstick of Vaudeville, and with more than a nod to the antics of the Marx Brothers, director David Ellenstein pulls no punches to bring out the goofiness, creatively using the rather small stage to accommodate a ton of action.

At first, the zaniness feels like a bit much, since we haven’t come to care about the characters; but anything less, right from the outset, wouldn’t match the lunacy needed for all the chaotic fun, which almost makes it feel like the pre-Producers‘ Mel Brooks must have had a hand in it somewhere.

Despite a large, playful cast, supported by an apt four-piece band, this show’s success rests on our rooting for Pseudolus as more and more problems come up. And Schein does shine in keeping it all together. Rather than ever let each new dilemma get him down, Schein — with an effervescent eternal optimism — has the slave cooking up further and further schemes, each to cover the previous one, praying that somehow it can all come together to yield him his sweet freedom.

As for the songs, yes, some young buck named Stephen Sondheim was responsible for them all, as odd as that sounds with over 50 years of hindsight on that name. But for those who fear the discordant tones of Sunday in the Park with George, tremble not. All of the music is upbeat, harmonious and joyful, particularly in the delightful, “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid.”

Few of the voices are notable (the exception being the rich baritone of Jason Maddy, who certainly raises an eyebrow when his voice suddenly fills the room) but you’re just not going to care. It’s not about perfection. It’s about boldness. It’s about character. It’s about fun. And this cast gets that in spades… er … sandals.

photos by Aaron Rumley

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
North Coast Repertory Theatre
987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach
Wed at 7; Thurs & Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2; Sun at 7 (until July 29)
ends on August 12, 2018 EXTENDED to August 19, 2018
for tickets, call 858.481-1055 or visit North Coast Rep

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