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Steve Feeney

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Posted: April 22, 2015

Theater review: ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ at Lyric Music Theater

Written by: Steve Feeney
The Proteans (Garrett Keiran, Craig Capone, and Andrew Goodwin) surround Pseudolus (Zach Handlen) in Lyric Music Theater’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, through May 2nd. Photo courtesy Audra Hatch Photography.

The Proteans (Garrett Keiran, Craig Capone, and Andrew Goodwin) surround Pseudolus (Zach Handlen) in Lyric Music Theater’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, through May 2nd. Photo courtesy Audra Hatch Photography.

Even though the performance under review was a matinee, there was “Comedy Tonight” at the Lyric Music Theater on Sunday afternoon. The local cast of the classic “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” got things underway with that famous tune and never looked back, unless they were engaging in one of the show’s frequent double takes.

The Sondheim/Shevelove/Gelbart musical is a fun show that has just the right mix of music, dance and comedy to make its two-hour-plus run time fly by. That’s not to say that it’s an easy task to make this classic farce work. With the show’s many entrances and exits and shifting plotlines, it’s a challenge. Not surprisingly, it took a pair of co-directors, Mary Meserve and John Blanchette, along with some nifty performers and talented technical staff to bring this Lyric production together.

The story concerns the efforts of a 200 BC Roman slave named Pseudolus to win his freedom through efforts which bring him into close contact with all manner of characters. Lustful aristocrats, vain warriors, slinky courtesans and terrified eunuchs all must be corralled into his constantly evolving plot. It all is delivered with an old-school showbiz flair.

Zack Handlen, a standout in Lyric’s take on “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” from earlier this year, is very good as Pseudolus, the role made famous on Broadway by Zero Mostel and, later, Nathan Lane. His sense of comic timing and expressive face make his hustling character the perfect, tireless con man who only needs a quick moment of inspiration to wiggle out of the latest setback to his plan. Handlen’s singing fit his general high-energy level in songs full of witty lyrics that often comment on the action of the play in a way that draws the audience further into the fun.

Joel Crowley, Bethany Perkins, and Zach Handlen perform “Pretty Little Picture” in Lyric Music Theater’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, through May 2nd. Photo courtesy Audra Hatch Photography.

Joel Crowley, Bethany Perkins, and Zach Handlen perform “Pretty Little Picture” in Lyric Music Theater’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, through May 2nd. Photo courtesy Audra Hatch Photography.

Joel Crowley and Bethany Perkins play lovers who must overcome class differences and general confusion, with the help of Pseudolus, if they hope to be together. Crowley proved adept at the comedy and revealed a fine singing voice on “Love, I Hear” and in duet with Perkins on “Lovely.” Perkins showed a fine, though soft, vocal style that left only a few lyrics hard to hear. Her acting featured a subtle playfulness as she dealt with her status as the object of several male’s desires. “That’ll Show Him” was a standout number for her.

John Ambrose was a comic gem as the slave Hysterium who had to cross-dress and play dead to fulfill one of Pseudolus’ endless deceptions. David Heath, Jennine Cannizzo, Jeff Campbell, Kevin Reams and Henrik Strandskov admirably filled important rolls while several more performers, too numerous to mention by name, filled minor roles with notable style.

The colorful, multi-level set, designed by Steve Lupien, served the action well and the costumes, designed by Louise Keezer distinctively established the character’s place in the ancient scheme of things. A quintet, conducted by Rebecca Caron, musically enhanced the comic action and added some exotic touches in support of Victoria Perreault’s choreography. The lighting, designed by Susan Finch, provided the warm Roman sunlight.

Originally based on ancient stories, this 1962 show itself represents somewhat of a bygone era in popular theater. But, as the folks at Lyric have shown, a good laugh can last a long time.

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”

WHERE: Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St., So. Portland
REVIEWED: April 19; continues through May 2
TICKETS: $17.99 to $21.99
CONTACT: 207-799-1421; lyricmusictheater.org

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