David Josefsburg, Michael Urie, Christopher Fitzgerald and Kevin Isola keep the toga party going for one more weekend, as “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ wraps its run at Two River Theater. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)
By TOM CHESEK
Red Bank’s Two River Theater offers one more long weekend of happy-humbug harbor to all of us who may feel caught between a Dickens and a Nutcracker this time of year.
Directed by Jessica Stone — and boasting an all-male cast of Tony nominees, TV personalities, Two River returnees and toga-clad Broadway babies — the TRT’s naughty and bawdy production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum reclaims the Stephen Sondheim musical comedy (based on the farcical works of ancient Roman playwright Plautus) from the community church basements and school auditoriums it’s long been consigned to. And it uses the novelty of its “stag” staging to mine maximum gold from its broad burlesque belly-laughs.
This is Stone’s second trip to the Forum, following a 2010 directorial debut that, like this one, starred her husband Christopher Fitzgerald as the slave Pseudolus. His dreams and schemes of freedom involve a clumsily complicated and cacophonous plot to pair his lovelorn master Hero (Bobby Conte Thornton) with the virginal and vacant girl-next-door Philia (David Turner, doing a delightfully dopey reprise in the role).
New to the troupe are stage and screen star Michael Urie (Ugly Betty, Modern Family) as harried house slave Hysterium; David Josefsburg as Marcus Lycus, procurer of courtesans; Kevin Isola as the alternately horny and henpecked Senex; and Eddie Cooper (son of Two River company veteran Chuck Cooper) as Senex’s mountainous missus Domina.
Everyone in the cast is given multiple chances to make a splash with comic timing and/or dynamite dancing — but any production of Forum has to stand or fall on its Pseudolus, the blustery role that scored Tonys for Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Jason Alexander and Nathan Lane. Fortunately, Fitzgerald (Broadway’s Young Frankenstein and Finian’s Rainbow) is more than up to the task, delivering a great old-school comic performance (plus some not-bad-at-all song ‘n dance) with traces of everyone from Bugs Bunny to Lou Costello.
Gary Adler’s pit orchestra puts a zippy spin on the MadMen-era score that’s keynoted (and highlighted) by “Comedy Tonight” — and Broadway choreographer Denis Cooper keeps all concerned in constant, kinetic, bouncing-off-walls motion (by all means, stick around for the curtain call, an Ed Sullivan-worthy variety talent show in its own right).
Remaining performances of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum are at 1 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday; 7 p.m. on Wednesday; 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Go here for tickets (starting at $20), as well as admission ($20 adults; $15 kids 12 and under) to the all-female staging of A Little Shakespeare: Pericles, continuing with 7 p.m. shows on Friday and Saturday inside Two River Theater Company’s “black box” Marion Huber space.
The mainstage Rechnitz Theater auditorium at Two River lights up again in January 2016, with the world premiere of Lives of Reason, co-written by none other than TRTC founder (and first-time playwright) Robert Rechnitz — about which more to come here on redbankgreen.