Since the early days—and I mean the earliest days—of theater, the gays have loved their musical theater. There’s no telling how many aspiring drag queens expressed their guilty pleasures by donning wigs and dresses to play the female roles in what was a decidedly male profession.
Broward Stage Door opened its 2011-12 season last weekend with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Stephen Sondheim’s thoroughly modern musical that pokes fun at the pillars of civilization in ancient Rome.
Director Dan Kelley, a veteran of several Stage Door productions, places himself on center stage as Prologus, an actor, (and later Pseudolus, a wily slave seeking his freedom) who lets the audience know up front that tonight’s production will be a “Comedy Tonight” while reserving the tragedy for tomorrow.
One by one, the cast of this great comedy are introduced: Hero (Andrew Betz), the young lad lovesick for the lovely virgin Philia (Lauren Cupples); Marcus Lycus (Mark Harmon), a dealer in courtesans who has sold Philia to Roman general Miles Gloriosus (Shane Tanner); Erronius (Jack Livesey), a citizen of Rome whose twin infants were kidnapped by pirates; Senex (Ken Clement) and Domina (Christine De Frece), Hero’s parents and Hysterium (Ricky Dain Jones), their slave.
Rounding out the cast are the colorful courtesans (Tintinabula, Panacaea, The Geminae, and the Amazonian Gymnasia) and three Proteans who cover every other supporting role from soldier to eunuch.
In order to win his freedom, Pseudolus promises to help Hero win the hand of Philia, and that’s where the serious comedy begins as the slave’s plans go awry.
Did I mention the show is pretty gay? From the gaggle of giggling eunuchs skipping across the stage to the fetish fantasies suggested by Gymnasia and Miles Gloriosus, it’s blatantly stereotypical and still hilarious. Hysterium is pretty fey and so is Pseudolus in the hands of Kelley, who frequently takes his performance over the top, completely overshadowing his costars.
Musically, the score, unlike many of Sondheim’s later works, is melodic and accessible and, under the musical direction of David Nagy, sung with gusto. Kudos to Stage Door for taking on relatively large shows at a time when most theaters are cutting back, but the trade-off is David Cohen’s orchestration tracks. They are painstakingly constructed, but no substitute for the spontaneity of a live ensemble in the pit.
Chrissi Ardito’s choreography is once again superb, employing physical comedy, acrobatics and clever tricks throughout. And Anthony White’s lighting design accentuates the relatively simple staging of the show, which takes place in front of three cartoonish Roman houses designed by Ardean Landhuis.
Once again, Stage Door employs the vast resources of Costume World to outfit its cast in colorful—indeed flamboyant—Romanesque wear. More than one local drag queen is undoubtedly salivating over Miles Gloriosus’ ostrich plumed helmet and I know I’ve seen Gymnasia’s gilded metal D-cups on stage somewhere.
“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”
Through Oct. 9
Broward Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Rd., Coral Springs
Oct. 14-Nov. 13
Byron Carlisle Theatre, Miami Beach
Tickets $38-$42 at StageDoorTheatre.com