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'Funny-Forum' a laugh-out-loud riot

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 24, 2002

Let me say up front that I adore composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and love his early musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the burlesque-like comedy that has the clever Roman slave Pseudolus careening through hilarious situations as he bargains for his freedom.

So anything that does this marvelous show less than justice is near-sacrilege to me.

Now let me say that the production of Funny-Forum at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre through March 31 is a near-religious experience.

Perfectly cast and staged, beautifully costumed and accompanied, delivered with confidence and energy, this Funny-Forum is a "must see" for any Sondheim fan or for anyone who loves to laugh.

Good grief, this show is fun.

Credit Equity actor Michael Edwards, who not only does the quintessential Pseudolus, but also directs the show. Edwards' performance is solid; his casting is inspired.

Who would ever think to cast Show Palace resident actor Joe Lawrence, the very essence of humility, in the role of the vain and pompous warrior Miles Gloriosus? Edwards did, and it works.

All Lawrence has to do is cock one eyebrow, put on a smirk and strut around the stage, and the audience convulses with laughter.

And what director-actor would have the courage to cast a co-star who may outshine himself? Edwards did, when he cast Matthew McGee as Hysterium, the groveling slave to the domineering Domina.

McGee is a delight from start to finish, the perfect, skittish second banana to Edwards' smoothly confident Pseudolus.

Susan Haldeman as the imperious, screeching Domina gives Edwards a casting trifecta.

The rest of the cast are almost a bonus: Equity actor Doug Truelsen as a lascivious Senex, regretful husband to the emasculating Domina; sweet-faced Nicholas Barnes as their young and innocent son, Hero; Joe Camper as the jittery dealer in female flesh, Marcus Lycus; Jazmin Gorsline as the dense and ditzy Philia, object of Hero's affections; David Clevinger as the bumbling old man, Erronius; and a bevy of buxom babes (hey, the whole show is politically incorrect) as the ladies of the "house" Lycus runs, though I was disappointed that Gymnasia (the statuesque Dawn McFarr) doesn't do any gymnastics.

Kudos, too, to hard-working Proteans Troy LaFon, Aaron Wooten, Ken Robinson and Tim Tenhumberg, the four who play a variety of roles, from Roman centurions to baggage handlers, slaves and keepers of the courtesans.

Here, again, is Edwards' deft directing hand. When LaFon has to make a quick change from bodyguard for Miles Gloriosus to eunuch at the house of Lycus, Edwards lets the audience hear LaFon's pounding steps running around the back of the stage so he can play both roles.

Edwards demolishes the invisible fourth wall between actors and audience, letting his characters work the crowd like standup comedians.

He even has Hysterium ad-libbing modernisms (Viagra wasn't around when Sondheim wrote the show in 1962) and doing a righton imitation of Hollywood Squares' Paul Lynde.

Musical director Bill Cusick's recorded music tracks sound richer and fuller than any Show Palace tracks in memory. Tom Hansen's set is colorful, stylish and in right proportion.

Anthony Sessa's sound cues are near-flawless. And costumers Bridget Bartlett and Erik Michelsen created outfits that reflect the Roman era and let the courtesans jiggle just enough to be effective but not so much as to offend.

What more can be said? This is a terrific show. Period.

If you go

WHAT: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

WHERE: Show Palace Dinner Theatre, 16128 U.S. 19, Hudson.

SHOW TIMES: 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and March 31; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday. Doors open two hours earlier for buffet and cash bar.

PRICES: Dinner and show, $35.95 until Thursday; after that, $37.50; show only, $24.95; ages 12 and younger, $19.95 and $14.95. Tax and tips not included in prices.

PHONE: Call 863-7949 in west Pasco; toll free elsewhere, 1-888-655-7469.

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