Back in 1962, Stephen Sondheim had been doing OK as a lyricist ("West Side Story," "Gypsy"), but he wanted to compose the music for a show as well. He got his chance with "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," and the rest is history.
"A Funny Thing" has been around the block several times locally but hasn't been seen recently, which makes its current revival by the Huntington Beach Playhouse such a nostalgic delight.
Although a bit uneven at times, this "Funny Thing" remains true to its title, as Roman slaves, conquerors, concubines and young lovers dash on and off stage under the frenetic direction of Gregory Cohen, who's long been known for his farcical flourish. His wife, Kysa, lends strong choreographic support.
The axis on which any staging of this show turns is its Pseudolus, and Eric Hindley brings this conniving character to life with guile and gusto in the Huntington Beach production. The rotund comic actor displays crafty cunning while perpetually in motion, moving other actors around like chess pieces.
The show's two finest performances, however, are delivered by Taylor Magee as the beautiful hostage Philia and Louis Jack as the "dirty old man" Senex, who pursues her despite his advanced age. Magee exemplifies her solo "Lovely" and has the satiric talent to sell her vacuous character, while Jack strongly projects his late-life lust as he prepares for one final conquest.
As Hysterium, the nominal "slave-in-chief," the bespectacled Steve Shane evokes memories of movie comic Arnold Stang as he nervously bumbles through his duties. Stacy Park radiates cougar-like sex appeal as Senex's shrewish wife, Domina.
Russell Montooth may be a bit short of stature to enact the warrior Miles Gloriosus, but his strong singing voice compensates splendidly. Rick Reischman intentionally slows the pace repeatedly as the wandering old man Erronius.
As Philia's smitten suitor, Cris Cortez successfully projects a lovestruck but unseasoned young man. Gregory Doyle is a bit hesitant as Lycus, proprietor of the courtesan house and described by Pseudolus as "a gentleman and a procurer."
Speaking of the courtesans, they are (for the most part) a luscious lot, particularly Michelle Skinner as Vibrata. Others include Sonja Taylor, Dana Benedict, sisters Phie Mura and Elizabeth Orr — and Cort Huckabone, donning drag for this show as he did in the playhouse's "Leading Ladies" last season.
The three proteans, who do yeoman's duty in a variety of assignments, are particularly impressive. Gavin Burrell, Carlos Campos and Sean Engard enact these industrious supernumeraries — reminiscent of the Three Stooges — with fine comic gusto.
Musically, the show flourishes under the baton of Mike Walker, highlighted by the clever "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid," although the music itself is canned. Set designer Marty Eckman and Andrew Otero — who triples as scenic artist, set dresser and costume designer — lend fine atmospheric effects.
Plenty of funny things happen in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," along with some exemplary performances in this spirited revival at the Huntington Beach Playhouse.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Huntington Beach Independent.
If You Go
What: "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"
Where: Huntington Beach Playhouse, Library Theater, 7171 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays through May 26
Cost: $18 to $20
Information: (714) 375-0695 or http://www.hbplayhouse.com