Recommended *** Citadel Theatre has taken on some heavy work this year, bringing large- scale musicals to their tiny space in Lake Forest. After taking on “Oliver” and doing a sterling version, they are now taking on the huge task of “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”, and by George, despite the intimacy of the venue, directed by Bob Estrin. They did it! “Forum” is a zany piece of work that first hit New York in 1962, winning most of the big Tony Awards in 1963 (Best Musical, Best Producer, Best Author:Musical, Best Actor;Musical, Best Supporting Actor;Musical and Best Director; Musical. Since then, it has seen several revivals and following the great work of the original lead, Zero Mostel, others have been Phil Silvers and Nathan Lane. Citadel, knowing that this play relies on a very strong Pseudolus, the slave ,has cast the highly energetic Tim Walsh. Walsh understands the timing that makes this play move along and with Estrin’s direction deserves the ovation that the audience gave him.
“Forum” is a silly story from the golden age of musicals with a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbert (best known for “Mash”) and the music and lyrics by the master of the musical, Stephen Sondheim. This is a true farce that is designed with one purpose in mind; to entertain the audience so that no matter what might have been on their minds when they entered the theater, they are laughing and happy as they make their way home. The story, if one can call it that, is about slaves in Rome, and one in particular ,Pseudolus, the aforementioned Walsh, who truly makes the 2 1/2 hours of madness a night to remember. All he wants is his freedom and his master, Hero (Jacob F. Jare) says if he can get him the girl next door, he will grant it to him.
The girl next door, Philia, a virgin (the lovely Angela Carrington) is a courtesan who has been sold to a young Captain, Miles Gloriosis (deftly handled by Adam Kasprowicz) by her owner, Lycus ( solidly played by Geoff Isaac). Hero’s parents, Senex (Bill Chamberlain truly grows on us in this role) and Dominia (Ellen Phelps) are leaving to visit her mother, allowing Hero to make his moves, but all heck breaks loose as Senex has to return, alone. What follows next is a lot of inane comedy, great musical numbers and great characters. Their neighbor Errorius ( perfect comic timing by Jeffrey Geddes) has been in search of his children who had been stolen as babies by pirates and another slave Hysterium (sharply played by Mark Anderson) all enter into mistaken identities and a comedy of errors that have us laughing until our sides split.
The set (Tianyu Qui) is a bit large for the small stage and since they have live musicians (a trio under the direction of Randy Casey at the piano ,with Mike Walsh on percussion and Anthony DiMauro on Trumpet) the stage is just a bit small for the dance numbers, but choreographer Jen Cupani fits it in well. The ensemble is very strong with Margaret Garofalo, Coco Kasperrowicz, Rachel Meloan , Alison Stake, Carmen Risi, Sharise Manning, Sam Martin, Chase Peacock and Quinn Rattan as soldiers, courtesans and citizens. The ladies were applauded on their own little numbers during “The House of Marcus Lycus” and it was well deserved.
The songs in this show, written by the greatest wordsmith in Musical history, Sondheim are very worthy of mention- “Comedy Tonight” (this one was not in the original try-outs), “Free”, “Lovely”, “Pretty Little Picture”, “Everybody Ought To Have a Maid” and more, including a number called the Funeral Sequence in the second act that you will find impossible not to laugh during. It can’t be done! The sound carried well in the theater, but there were times when the musicians could be seen and we could see the actors behind the set. This is a small space and perhaps, if Citadel plans to continue doing large musicals, they might seek another space in Lake Forest. I know of one where the Kids Stage company offers their shows. Might be a way to do the large scale productions that they have proven they can do talent-wise. Janice Gemp has been very creative with her costumes and Danile Friedman’s lighting effects worked well. Bob Boxer’s sound as previously stated allowed us to hear every word and Pamela Anderson did a great job on props.
The only other problem with this production is that you only have until May 22nd to catch it at Citadel Theatre located in Lake Forest at 300 S. Waukegan Road (Route 43) , just south of Route 60 with performances as follows:
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Tickets are $35-$37.50 and can be ordered by calling 847-735-8554 or online at www.CitadelTheatre.org
discounts for Seniors and Students.
Plenty of FREE Parking
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”