A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Gettysburg
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Not all of it - sometimes very little of it - manages to be true musical comedy.
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On the other hand, there are a few musicals that are nothing but comic, that have no reason for existence other than to be riotously cheerful, that audiences simply must laugh at helplessly while risking collapse. It is presumably a musical farce, but it is really vaudeville pure and simple, turned into two hours or so of spurious Roman history and laden with some of Sondheim's most delightfully silly songs.
FORUM is also, late in its history, one of the most charmingly flexibly-cast shows around. For decades the lead part of the slave Pseudolus was completely identified with its originator, Broadway legend Zero Mostel.
It is still closely identified with him, but its Broadway revival broke casting tradition in a huge way when Whoopi Goldberg was cast as one of Nathan Lane 's replacements as Pseudolus. While Baker kept the part more true to the original script than revival director Jerry Zaks did in Goldberg's casting, Willett still shone through as an original Pseudolus, in this case as a powerhouse bundle of energy that just might explode on the way to freedom, rather than as an older slave merely trying to trick her way into being set free.
It's a nice touch, and a nice turn on the role. In a show that requires big voices and broad humor for many of its characters, Baker also did a fine job of casting those roles. As keeper of the brothel next door, Marcus Lycus, Ed Riggs brought a deep rumble and more than a dash of Playboy king Hugh Hefner , with everything but the pipe and a bottle of Pepsi.
Matthew Barninger's Captain Miles Gloriosus was equally nicely delivered, a blustering ball of loud, roaring machismo and self-congratulation. Andrew Maher's Senex was the original hen-pecked husband with an urge to cut loose just this once, and his wife Domina, played by Betsy Bein, has him under her thumb and then some.
Part of Bein's charm in the role was her utter blindness to anything outside herself; her Domina knows she's the center of the universe and that the rest of it doesn't matter at all - least of all Senex. She's far kinder and more attentive to Hysterium, the slave who runs the household.
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Eventually, Zero Mostel was cast. During the out of town pre-Broadway tryouts the show was attracting little business and not playing well. Jerome Robbins was called in to give advice and make changes. The biggest change Robbins made was a new opening number to replace "Love Is in the Air" and introduce the show as a bawdy, wild comedy. Stephen Sondheim wrote the song "Comedy Tonight" for this new opening. It was directed by George Abbott and produced by Hal Prince , with choreography by Jack Cole and uncredited staging and choreography by Robbins.
The scenic and costume design was by Tony Walton. The lighting design was by Jean Rosenthal. The young lovers were played by Brian Davies and Preshy Marker. Karen Black , originally cast as the ingenue, was replaced out of town. The show won several Tony Awards: The score, however, was coolly received; it was Sondheim's first musical on Broadway in which he wrote both the music and lyrics, and did not earn a nomination for Best Original Score.
The show was presented twice in London's West End. David Burns did not return for the film role of Senex, which was played in the film by Michael Hordern.
Buster Keaton made his final film appearance in the role of Erronius. A revival opened on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on April 4, and closed on August 12, after performances. Larry Blyden , who played Hysterium, the role created by Jack Gilford, also co-produced. They had to close soon after Phil Silvers suffered a stroke. The musical was revived again with great success in , opening at the St. James Theatre on April 18, and closing on January 4, after performances. The production was directed by Jerry Zaks , with choreography by Rob Marshall.
The Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts produced a limited-run revival of the musical from January 11 to 27, The production was directed by Randal K. West, with Justin Hill as musical director and Adam Cates as choreographer. Bruce Dow and Sean Cullen were alternates in the lead role. In ancient Rome, some neighbors live in three adjacent houses. In the center is the house of Senex, who lives there with wife Domina, son Hero, and several slaves, including head slave Hysterium and the musical's main character Pseudolus. A slave belonging to Hero, Pseudolus wishes to buy, win, or steal his freedom.
One of the neighboring houses is owned by Marcus Lycus, who is a buyer and seller of beautiful women; the other belongs to the ancient Erronius, who is abroad searching for his long-lost children stolen in infancy by pirates. One day, Senex and Domina go on a trip and leave Pseudolus in charge of Hero.
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Hero confides in Pseudolus that he is in love with the lovely Philia, one of the courtesans in the House of Lycus albeit still a virgin. Pseudolus promises to help him win Philia's love in exchange for his own freedom. Unfortunately as the two find out when they pay a visit on Lycus , Philia has been sold to the renowned warrior Miles Gloriosus , who is expected to claim her very soon. Pseudolus, an excellent liar, uses Philia's cheery disposition to convince Lycus that she has picked up a plague from Crete , which causes its victims to smile endlessly in its terminal stages.
By offering to isolate her in Senex's house, he is able to give Philia and Hero some time alone together, and the two fall in love.
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But Philia insists that, even though she is in love with Hero, she must honor her contract with the Captain, for "that is the way of a courtesan. Pseudolus comes up with a plan to slip Philia a sleeping potion that will render her unconscious. He will then tell Lycus that she has died of the Cretan plague, and will offer to remove the body.
Hero will come along, and they will stow away on a ship headed for Greece. Satisfied with his plan, Pseudolus steals Hysterium's book of potions and has Hero read him the recipe for the sleeping potion; the only ingredient he lacks is "mare's sweat", and Pseudolus goes off in search of some. Unexpectedly, Senex returns home early from his trip, and knocks three times on his own door. Philia comes out of the house, and, thinking that Senex is the Captain, offers herself up to him. Surprised but game, Senex instructs Philia to wait in the house for him, and she does.
Hysterium arrives to this confusion, and tells Senex that Philia is the new maid that he has hired. Pseudolus returns, having procured the necessary mare's sweat; seeing that Senex has returned unexpectedly and grasping the need to keep him out of the way, Pseudolus discreetly sprinkles some of the horse-sweat onto him, then suggests that the road trip has left Senex in dire need of a bath. Taking the bait, Senex instructs Hysterium to draw him a bath in the long-abandoned house of Erronius.
But while this is happening, Erronius returns home, finally having given up the search for his long-lost children.