poster for the "Forum" production at The Pentacle Theatre


"A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum"

The Statesman Journal


by Dan Hays

The Pentacle Theatre

"A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum" is nearly unique among musicals.

Why? Because it has a good book.

A good script, that is. In fact, "Forum" is a roll-in-the-aisles comedy whose music, while amusing and sprightly, isn't really necessary.

The current production at Pentacle Theatre is a full-bore, all-stops-out frolic, a comic delight, the sort of thing where one says to oneself "it couldn't get any funnier than this"...and then it does.

Chalk most of that up to director Randy Bowser.

His vision for this show is fresh, fast and fully fleshed.

He has cast the show exceptionally well, and turned his 18 players into a genuine, classic ensemble, a group who function as one.

He has made certain the music (early Stephen Sondheim) is superbly orchestrated and very well played.

Bowser's mark is on every moment of this production.

The actors love it, and so does the audience.

The play, by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, is very loosely based on some ancient Roman comedies, heavily filtered through American burlesque.

It is bawdy, sophisticated, and full of vivid moments and characters. The plot--well, one of the show's songs pretty much describes the plot: "The situation's fraught, fraughter than I thought." In other words, don't ask; just let it happen.

The music advances the plot in every case, and never outstays its welcome.

Bowser has been careful to cast actors who can deal with the music rather than singers who would struggle with the heavy acting demands.

One hesitates to single out performances, because this production of "Forum" is every inch a group effort.

Still, there is Tom Ulmer as Hysterium, who chews up his role and bursts forth with glorious energy.

And David Cristobal as Pseudolus, who romps through the whole thing like a demented, lecherous teddy bear.

And the three Proteans -- the three actors who play all the minor roles in the show, sometimes essaying two people nearly simultaneously -- Jeff Baer, Alan Kuhnly, and Scott Reichlin; these three seize every moment and redefine slapstick.

Then there is Sheree Ross, whose dancing courtesan, Panacea, will make strong men weep and women contemplate revenge (actually, all six courtesans accomplish this to one degree or another).

Larry Roach as Senex makes befuddlement endearing and Reuben Marzell Sampson's astonishing Miles Gloriosus so admires himself that the audience just has to join in.

Couple all this with fast and intricate choreography by Carrie Wood (who is one of those courtesans, by the way) and wonderous costumes by Louise Larsen, and all you need is an expert set.

And you get one.

Louise Larsen and Tony Zandol have joined together to produce a perfect Mediterranean blend that allows for - well - some of Bowser's trademark theatrical references that aren't necessarily in period.

This isn't Bowser's first experience with "Forum." Some 30 years ago, he appeared as Pseudolus in a highly-successful university production of the musical.

In fact, he won a major acting award for the role.

The show has remained a favorite of his ever since, and he has long yearned to direct it.

The production isn't perfect.

A few of the players can't quite reach the level of the rest, but that produces no real damage.

And one wishes this explosive cast had more room to work in (a problem inherent with any large-cast show at Pentacle).

But the bottom line is, buy your tickets now.

This show is selling out fast, and rightly so.

Once word spreads, those tickets will be very hard to come by.

The show runs through May 12.


Go forth!

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