In the program notes for its latest stage production, the vintage Broadway musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” Lancaster Opera House’s artistic director David Bondrow quotes amazing statistics to help celebrate the venerable old relic’s 35th anniversary: 1,000-plus shows and one million playgoers.
Impressive. And “Forum,” written in the mid-1960s by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, with music and lyrics by then rookie composer, Stephen Sondheim, is a perfect piece to toast the LOH decades to come. The show may be old but it still works.
Based on the plays of Plautus, ancient Rome’s Neil Simon, “Forum” is fast and furious - OK, frantic - and is still very funny with its many bawds, social satire, the stuff of farce on the loose, puns and double entendres, mistaken identities, little fibs growing into lies, beautiful courtesans - ah, the lovely Gymnasia, Panacea and others - and lechery unleashed. It’s hard not to like a play like this. Just a few weeks before our national election we need this, which may explain why “Forum” is revived every few years.
The story defies explanation but briefly it goes something like this: Pseudolus, a slave, a conniver, a scammer of the first rank, wants his freedom. A young, smitten lad named Hero is all moony-eyed over Philia, a lovely new courtesan in the brothel of Marcus Lycus. Hero promises Pseudolus his freedom if he’ll introduce him to the beauty.
Pseudolus agrees and the village is turned upside down by a series of deceits and deceptions involving another slave, Hysterium, dirty-old-man Senex - who recalls the old adage, “Never fall in love during a total eclipse” - and the vain military general, Miles Gloriosus. Potions play a major role. “Let’s see,” muses Pseudolus, “where can I get a cup of mare sweat?” The well-meaning Hysterium ends up the foil in the many Pseudolus capers.
It all gets sorted out but not after a ridiculous round of events, much chase, sight gags, vaudevillian antics and like all good farces, a happy ending brought about by remarkable coincidences.
The score is not particularly memorable but the show’s opening tune, “Comedy Tonight,” is still a rouser. “Lovely” is performed twice, the first time charming, the reprise hilarious. “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” remains a classic. There’s some dance, choreographed by Kevin Leary. Fran Landis is the musical director of the usual excellent, 12-piece LOH orchestra.
The large ensemble is led by the invaluable comic Bondrow, as Pseudolus. He’s joined by Richard Spitaletta and Chrissy Vogric, as Hero and Philia; musical comedy veteran Marc Sacco, as Hysterium; Scot Kaitanowski, as Marcus Lycus; Katy Clancy, as Domina; Scott Gunner, as Gloriosus; and tall Tim Hartman, wonderfully foolish as Senex, ridiculously and hopelessly panting after Philia. “The virgin waits,” someone says. “That’s what they do best,” offers Senex. “Forum” is at its best when Hartman appears.
It’s all very silly, often exaggerated, but always spirited. Choreographer Leary and conductor Landis also co-direct the show. Overall, in tandem, laudable work.
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”
Musical comedy at The Lancaster Opera House, 21 Central Ave., Lancaster through Sept. 25. Tickets are $28-$30. Call 683-1776 or visit lancopera.org.