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THEATER REVIEW: “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”

The title underestimates the show. Not a funny thing, but a whole lot of funny things happen in this middle-aged but still hilarious musical (and winner of six Tonys), now getting a sparkling production from Premiere Productions at Welk Resorts San Diego.

Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics (marking his Broadway debut as a composer), and Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart the book (based on the comedies of Roman writer Plautus) for this goofy 1962 show guaranteed to take your mind off lost airplanes and health care plans.

“Comedy Tonight,” announces slave Pseudolus (Randall Hickman) in the best-known (opening) song – but when he pulls the curtain, it’s tragedy we see, weeping women in black singing a mournful dirge.

Never mind, he reminds the cast it’s “tragedy tomorrow” and they scurry off to change costumes and attitudes.

The plot has Pseudolus’ owner, young Hero (Kevin McDonald) falling for Philia (Kailey O’Donnell), the pretty virgin next door, and Pseudolus’ efforts to get her to reciprocate. The bait here is that Hero has promised Pseudolus his freedom if he can pull off the hookup. The fly in the ointment is that Philia is promised to the handsome warrior Miles Gloriosus (hunky Dan Windham).

The show is a mishmash of vaudeville and farce, stuffed with sight gags, puns, running jokes, goofy songs and wordplay.

Set on a farce-friendly Roman street are three houses. One belongs to Marcus Lycus (Torre Younghans), local purveyor of feminine flesh, in whose upper window Hero has spied the lovely Philia.

Next door live Roman senator Senex (Devin Collins) and Domina (Robin La Valley), his (what else?) dominating wife. And, of course, we mustn’t forget Hero.

The last house belongs to Erronious (Robert Delillo), an old man who has lost his two children. A seer tells him he must walk around the hills of Rome seven times in order to find them; his trek offers the show’s major running gag.

Hickman is hilarious – and demonstrates dancing and singing chops – as that rascally slave Pseudolus, and the rest of the cast falls in, hamming up the tongue-in-cheek script.

McDonald and O’Donnell look good and play well off each other as young lovers Hero and Philia.

Shaun Thomas is a scream as Senex’s head slave, the “I live to grovel” Hysterium. I’m still giggling at the sight of him in women’s weeds.

La Valley is properly imperious and, with one of the best voices in the cast, delivers the goods on her comic song “That Dirty Old Man.”

Collins’ Senex acts like a few senators we could all name, and has a wonderful time with Pseudolus, Hysterium and Lycus on the soft-shoe sounds and funny lyrics of “Everybody Ought To Have A Maid.”

Windham is somewhat underutilized as the ever-devoted soldier Miles Gloriosus, but gets to strut his vocal chops as a suitor on “Bring Me My Bride:”

“Let haste be made!
I cannot be delayed:
There are lands to conquer, cities to loot and peoples to degrade.”

Delillo’s Erronious looks like he belongs in “Man Of La Mancha,” but that just adds to the hilarity.

Director/choreographer Ray Limon has made excellent use of the space, and – even with a taped orchestra – has created a show to lighten anybody’s mood.

Leave your brain at home; this show won’t require it. But this trip to the Forum is sure to provide giggles, guffaws, probably even groans and send you home with a smile on your face.

The details

Premiere Productions’ “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” plays through April 18, 2014 at Welk Resorts Theatre San Diego, 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido.

Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 1 pm.

Tickets: (888) 802-7469 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.