A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Review)

Covedale production needs some polish

The musical comedy A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum has been around long enough to qualify as a classic. The 1962 show (based on Roman comedies by Plautus from 2,000 years earlier) is a well-oiled script (by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart) with memorable music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; in fact, it was the first show for which he wrote both the tunes and the words.

Even if you don’t know the show, you’re likely to recognize some of its songs: from “Comedy Tonight,” which sets the tone of the evening, to the very humorous (and endlessly reprised) “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” or the tongue-in-cheek “Lovely” between a young man and woman who don’t know much about love.

I went to see the opening night of Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ staging of the show at the Covedale Performing Arts Center on Feb. 19 expecting to see a classic. Unfortunately, what I saw is what happens too often with classics — an attempt to keep up with a script that requires masterful delivery. This production makes an honest effort, and several performers have nice singing voices. But the comedy of Forum requires razor-sharp delivery or it falls flat. And that happens far too often in this production.

Of course, falling flat is part of the humor of Forum, which is full of comic bumbling and slapstick moves that can be hilarious. But when they don’t land precisely, they just seem lame, and that’s what’s happening on the way to this Forum.

Leo J. Northart III has a great voice and a commanding stage presence, but fluffed lines and unfocused movement made him a less than memorable Pseudolus. The three “Proteans,” characters who fill in crowd scenes and undertake a lot of comic business, were more distracting than contributory. Their bits, presumable conceived by director Denny Reed, were often along the lines of “Hey, let’s do this” rather than actions chosen strategically to amplify the humor. Such unmotivated shtick also affected the antics of Bradley Hamilton as Hysterium, a prissy, fawning servant who is the victim of Pseudolus’ trickery.

Reed’s production on Covedale’s wide stage often seemed spread too far to keep its focus, although I thought the use of a revolving door on the house of Senex was an inspired bit that added a lot of humor. The one performer who clearly understood his caricatured role and carried it off with excellence was Ty Yadzinski as the pompous Roman captain, Miles Gloriosus. He repeatedly evoked laughter with his preening and applause with his singing.

I love Forum, and there are few shows that can be funnier when all the parts are working together. This production has too much business and not enough polish.


A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, presented by Cincinnati Landmark Productions at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, continues through March 8. 

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