Chicago Theatre Review
A Comedy Tonight!
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – Porchlight Music Theatre
It’s hard to believe that this hysterical musical comedy has been around since 1962. The show features a book cowritten by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, two highly respected comic writers from the 1950’s, with long lists of television and theatrical credits. And, in one of his earliest Broadway ventures, it’s the first musical to feature both melody and lyrics by the master of musical theater, Stephen Sondheim. The result is an absolutely sublime evening of theatre that, even in a substandard production, would be guaranteed to incite riotous laughter.
But Porchlight Music Theatre’s current production is anything but substandard. In a fitting finale to their glorious “Season of Sondheim,” laughter and music rein supreme. Artistic Director Michael Weber once again demonstrates his talent, not only as an excellent director of musicals, but as a sharp air traffic controller of farce. Given all the running, stair climbing, door slamming, pratfalls, double-takes and over-the-top comedy, this show is definitely farcical and Mr. Weber proves he has a gift for staging such fast-paced shows with ease. Ably assisted by talented Musical Director Linda Madonia (who also mans the piano, while conducting her six-piece orchestra) and Choreographer extraordinaire, Brenda Didier, whose dances are both exotic and goofy, this production takes off with a bang and never slows down until after the final curtain.
The plot, believe it or not, is inspired by the comedies by Plautus, an ancient Roman playwright who wrote way before the birth of Christ. This musical tells of Pseudolus, a slave to his henpecked master, Senex, his overbearing mistress, Domina, and their naive boy, Hero. While the boy’s parents are off on a journey, Pseudolus is left in charge of their son. He makes a bargain with his young charge that if he can unite Hero with Philia, the young virgin he’s been pining over (who happens to be a new courtesan at the pleasure palace of Marcus Lycus), Pseudolus will earn his freedom. Add to the story an arrogant warrior named Miles Gloriosus, a befuddled old man named Erronius, whose children were stolen by pirates, a bevy of sexy beauties and a versatile trio of comedic acrobats and you have a fool-proof recipe for comedy.
Bill Larkin, the Jeff Award-winning actor who impressed audiences as Ed Kleban in “A Class Act,” steps into Pseudolus’ sandals. His talent for broad, bawdy humor and deadpan asides makes this boundlessly energetic actor perfect for the role. He is ably assisted by the magnificent triple-threat, Matt Crowle, as fellow slave, Hysterium. This young actor, whose stage credits include Bert in “Mary Poppins and Patsy in “Spamalot,” is not only a dancer/choreographer, who’s as “graceful as a grouse,” but a master of subtle humor. Together these two actors bring down the house and become the poster boys for Comedy Tonight.
In supporting roles, theatre veteran and TV celebrity Will Klinger makes a delightfully comic and subservient Senex, standing out in musical numbers, like the lascivious “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” (sung with Pseudolus, Hysterium and Marcus Lycus) and “Impossible,” a duet sung with doe-eyed Miles Blim, as his innocent son, Hero. Carin Brunis, fresh from “The Full Monty,” is imposing and very funny as Domina. Her rendition of “That Dirty Old Man” delightfully displays the matron’s hidden romantic raptures. Lorenzo Rush, Jr. is appropriately smarmy as the purveyor of flesh, Marcus Lycus, and Greg Zawada takes big steps in his portrayal of egotistical military commander, Miles Gloriosus.
Mr. Weber’s production is colorfully dressed by Alexia Rutherford in togas and g-strings and given play upon Megan Truscott’s cartoon-like setting, consisting of three two-stories Roman residences. Becca Jeffords’ lighting is brilliant and Mealah Heidenreich has met the challenge, creating such bizarrely diverse props as a plucked chicken and a goblet of mare’s sweat. Who could ask for anything more?
Want to see what comedy is supposed to look like? Pay a visit to Stage 773 for Porchlight’s final production of their 20th season, where theatergoers can travel back to Ancient Rome, when freeing slaves was the latest fad and hilarity was the word of the day. In a production as outrageously funny as a man dressed in a blond wig and as fast-paced as a sexy Etruscan dancer, this brilliantly performed musical is further proof why Porchlight Music Theatre is one of Chicago’s finest venues.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 17-May 24 by Porchlight Music Theatre at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago.
Tickets are available at the box office, by calling 773-327-5252 or by going to www.porchlightmusictheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.