Last Friday the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor opened A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge, its final show of its 2013 mainstage season. The classic Larry Gelbart/Stephen Sondheim musical, a sendup of Greek drama with a distinctly “fakakta” cast of zany characters and catchy music, is more “conventional” than the show that preceded it, The Mystery of Irma Vep (which we loved), but just as entertaining and Forum is a fitting finale to a season of hilarious comedies with sparkling and talented actors.
Peter Scolari, known for his roles in Bosom Buddies and Newhart, stars as Pseudolus, a slave to Senex (Conrad John Schuck), his overbearing wife Domina (Jackie Hoffman) and their love-struck, slightly dim son Hero (Nick Verina). When Pseudolus learns that Hero is madly in love with a beautiful courtesan from the brothel next door, he strikes a deal with his young master: if he can arrange for Hero to meet the girl of his dreams, Hero will grant him his freedom. Unfortunately, the lovely young lady Hero has fallen for, Philia (Lora Lee Gayer), has been sold to Captain Miles Gloriosus (Nathaniel Hackmann), who is on his way to claim his bride! Pseudolus lies to pimp Marcus Lycus (Laurent Giroux) that Philia has a rare form of plague that’s highly contagious, and Marcus Lycus leaves Philia with him while Pseudolus and his anxiety-ridden friend and fellow slave Hysterium (Tom Deckman) find a “cure.” What follows is an over-the-top farce, filled with mistaken identity, an increasingly confusing web of lies that Pseudolus can’t keep track of, a blind man (Hamptonite Stewart Lane) constantly interrupting the action by casually walking across the stage and lots of great songs that musical theater buffs will no doubt recognize, like “Comedy Tonight,” “Lovely,” “Bring Me My Bride” and more. The principal cast is uniformly excellent, and the ensemble gets to shine as well, with the three “Proteans” acting as both the Greek chorus of the story and as minor characters, and the courtesans providing many show-stopping laughs. Terry Lavell leaves quite an impression as Gymnasia.
As the show opened and Pseudolus began his opening monologue, an elderly woman in a walker slowly took her seat just as Scolari said a line about how anything can happen. This broke the ice immediately; even though the snafu wasn’t planned, we suddenly felt as though we were part of the experience. At the beginning of the second act, Senex recapped the audience on the convoluted plot and reintroduces the characters, but when he called out for Domina, Hoffman missed her cue. But rather than buckle, she went with it. “Oh, sorry, did I miss my cue? I got so used to sitting backstage in Act I, I must have forgotten I was in a show!” she said, as the audience erupted in laughter. Hoffman, a Broadway vet, has a very sarcastic, New York sense of humor, and the audience was savvy enough to get the joke. It was moments like this that elevated the show from a fun musical to an engaging, memorable evening.
The usual Bay Street pedigree is on full display in Forum, with a colorful set, lovely and gaudy costumes and a sharp (if small) band. Dodge, who also choreographed the many production numbers, has a clear vision for this show and understands the almost Mel Brooks-like tone it needs to succeed. Musical director Ethyl Will clearly prepared the actors well, because no matter how silly the lyrics, the performers all sang beautifully. And it should be said that Scolari, whose character carries much of the show on his shoulders, is more than up to the task and regularly delivered show-stopping one-liners.
A happy crowd-pleaser, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a great end to a strong summer season at the Bay Street Theatre.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum runs through September 1 at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. For tickets and more information, go to baystreet.org.